A Peak Peak-Oil-Theory Theory

by | Dec 18, 2008

Five months is a long time in climate politics. The arguments change with the seasons. Back in the hazy days of July and August, the eco-newswires were dominated by stories about ‘record-breaking’ arctic ice extent – even though it wasn’t record-breaking, and the record is only 30 years long. Now, they are more likely to be stories telling us that 2008 hasn’t been all that warm, but that global warming is still happening.

The other dominant story was the genuinely record-breaking oil prices. Every time you filled your car with petrol, the price had gone up by several per cent. The environmental movement was keen to interpret this as another harbinger of the beginning of the end, and used it to demand that we change our ways. It seemed to prove that we were in the grip of what they said peak-oil theory had predicted. Here is Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP on BBC TV, in June.

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‘The days of cheap oil are over’, she says. ‘A look at the figures’ (what ‘figures’?) would demonstrate that we’re past the ‘half way point of all oil’, meaning that it would get more and more expensive, she claims. Demand outstrips supply. Lucas must be disappointed then, that OPEC have announced that they are cutting production by 2.2 million barrels a day in an order to rescue the price from its current plunge. In July, a barrel cost $147. Today, it costs just $41.53. If ‘the days of cheap oil are over’, why is it so cheap? Why is it necessary to create the scarcity which Caroline Lucas said existed in order to create the higher prices she demanded?

It could still be argued that the price drop reflects the current economic climate. And indeed, there is some sense in the argument that as demand has dropped so too has the price. But this doesn’t explain the peak. Because, back in June and July, it’s not as if the world was experiencing an economic boom.  Another major story – you may have noticed – of the last two years has been the ‘credit crunch’ that began in early 2007. Yet these two years of worsening economic affairs saw the price of oil rocket upwards. Just as we know house prices can ‘bubble’, so too can commodity prices. The upward prices were driven, in part, not by imminent scarcity, but by the idea that they might continue. After all, many – not just Greens – were lining up to make this drama a crisis. And who wouldn’t invest in oil, if they thought it was running out? And here’s the funny thing… It’s not in oil producers’ interests for people to believe that there is an abundance of oil. The idea of scarcity makes their product more valuable. Who are these Greens working for? On this basis, too, there is no real incentive for companies to invest in new exploration. New extraction facilities are hugely expensive. Invest prematurely, and you alter the market, price, and of course, politics. Imagine that in July 2008 you had invested your capital on the basis of reports that…

Some analysts have raised the possibility of prices rising as high as $200 a barrel during the next 18 months. … “You really cannot forecast how much further the market will rally now,” said Tatsuo Kageyama from Kanetsu Asset Management in Tokyo. “All I can say is the market will continue to rise.

… you’d be feeling the pinch now.

Search the web for charts showing oil prices, and what they reveal is that upward surges in oil price reflect political events. Regional conflict in the Middle East, and Africa, the War on Terror, assassinations, strikes, and so on, litter the upward progress of curves. Yet environmental doom-sayers are quick to tell us that there is something fundamentally wrong about our relationship with the natural world, and that we stand on the brink of a precipice. Nothing could be more arse-about-face. Oil prices were high for very human reasons.

The ‘half way point’ between what was in the ground and its depletion has been given incredible significance by various alarmists. It is yet another ‘tipping point’ that is used to manufacture drama from dull statistics, in much the same way as Arctic ice progression is used to manufacture drama from dull statistics. Once this fictional point is passed, we are supposed to enter some dark new epoch, in which a society that has foolishly been predicated on some ‘unsustainable’ relationship with the natural world begins to collapse. The search for these points-of-no-return represent a religious mission to look for ‘signs’ from Gaia. So convinced are people that such algebraic maxima exist, which give mathematical identity to society’s relationship with nature, that anything and everything becomes a ‘tipping point’ at the expense of understanding the world more deeply; understanding the increasing price of oil as a shortcoming of the market in the face of events in the human – rather than geological – world, for example. The idea of the ‘tipping point’ then assumes political significance. Rarely a day goes by without it being applied to something – gun crime, obesity, you name it. Where there is a moral panic, you will find the ecological metaphor – the “tipping point” – being used to paint a picture of inevitable decline into social chaos.

The invocation of social chaos is a demand for social control. Like alienated weirdos who once stood in public places wearing ‘the end is nigh’ placards, the people making these statements cannot explain the world – it’s already chaotic for control freaks. For example, they can’t explain oil prices in terms of political events. Curves representing Arctic sea ice approach ‘tipping points’, which they argue represent movement towards ‘runaway climate change’. ‘We’ve got to change the way we live’, they say. While they so comprehensively fail to explain the social world, we should ignore them, just as we walked past those men in their placards. They deserve only a bit of sympathy, at arms length.

There is a problem for people making these statements. Their luck runs out. Nature takes a different course. So…

As the environmental movement emphasises our relationship with nature, how about we treat doom itself as a ‘natural resource’ which is exploited for political capital? It is a resource that is depleted in two ways. First, let’s assume that it is finite – nature cannot continue to provide alarmists with these resources forever, and so their jumping on everything as the sign of ‘the end’ is unsustainable. Second, the utility of these resources becomes diminished as an increasingly credulous public tire of them – demand for more and more doom grows. Hence, climate change alarmists leap on sea ice extent one year, floods the next, heatwaves the next… and so on. Each new trend constitutes a new deposit of resource, that will be depleted, flogged to death, over the season.

Let’s call this theory the peak peak-oil-theory theory. So far, environmental alarmists have been able to avoid reaching the peak because they have been able to locate new trends, and invent new ways of telling stories about the progress of little blue lines which, for that season, appear to make sense. But now, there is clear evidence emerging that the tipping points have been passed.

Doom does not carry over from one season to the next. Arctic sea ice recovers from its ‘historic low’ in a year that climate-activist-meteorologists admit that global warming is postponed. The commodity price bubble of doom bursts. In order to prevent a crisis, alarmists pump ever more doom into the market, promising a bleaker future, but it just makes them look sillier and sillier. Confidence in the doom market crumbles still further, as the value of doom approaches nil.

[youtube Higin1kY3PM]

The world’s doom-shale deposits, previously thought to contain enough pessimism to fuel the green project for centuries to come, don’t. The idea that technological developments will allow these reserves to be tapped is mere propaganda. The days of cheap doom are over.


  1. Rich

    So where can I invest in Doom futures?

    10 out of 10 for your use of hyphens.


  2. Lee Jones

    It was very obvious to any critically minded person at the time that the ‘peak oil’ rubbish was… well, rubbish. Yet it was splashed all across the media. However, I have not seen one newspaper article going back over this and critically assessing environmentalists’ claims about peak oil. It is remarkable just how biased the media is: it will buy absolutely anything the greens say hook, line, and sinker, and never hold them to account. Thank god for blogs like this.

  3. Alex Cull

    Great article! I don’t know though, I think there’s still plenty of doom left lurking under the surface of the human psyche. And there are sources of doom which have been previously deemed uneconomic, but which can always be re-opened and exploited again (look how CJD has just reappeared.) Also doom can be recycled pretty much ad infinitum – Thomas Malthus, for instance, back at the end of the 18th century, discovered a gigantic repository of doom that has been reused again and again, and will no doubt continue to provide plenty of fuel for future ages.

    I also foresee a bright (if that’s the right word) future for tipping points – just when one tipping point is about to reach its 10-year deadline, its kinetic energy is immediately transmitted to another tipping point with a second deadline further off into the future, and the first is then allowed to be forgotten. So the momentum is preserved and the doom-and-bust cycle perpetually renewed, providing a sustainable supply of tipping points and helping to keep the doomsters in business until – Doomsday, I suppose.

    I just thought of something. Considering all the many many times the doomsayers have been spectacularly wrong about just about everything connected with the environment, the climate, energy, the planet, etc., imagine if they all suddenly changed their minds en masse, and told us that everything was fine…

    That would be scary. Then we’d be doomed for sure.

  4. StuartR

    Thanks for a very funny piece; I think people generally do see the same humour in this constant revisionism of the environmental stories. Although I have to agree with Alex Cull above I think there will be a never-ending stock of these self-sustaining stories.

    My personal favourite are the eternal stories about scientists being surprised and shocked at how their estimates of doom have turned out to be under estimates and therefore the need for action is even stronger than they have ever expected. Usually we are told that these scientist entities were not even close to being spot on in their predictions, and yet it appears that we are still to take these errors as an encouragement to take their further assessments seriously. It’s like a constant key change a bad karaoke session that never seems to reach dog whistle pitch.

    I think we’ve found we are stuck in an Escher drawing kind of paradox here.

  5. Lance

    “…the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” – H.L. Mencken (American satarist) 1918

    Sadly I think that the hobgoblin of AGW is going to be a powerful tool of leftist governments for years to come.

  6. George Carty

    Just as the hobgoblin of Eurabia is a powerful tool for rightist governments…

  7. geoff chambers

    I agree with Alex that doom is unlikely to run out, though the quality has been going steadily downhill for ages. When I was a lad, you could get a good dose of quality doom in a handy book-size, on special shelves in the library labelled science fiction. Now it’s either that bland tasteless peer-reviewed stuff churned out by some computer, or the low-carbon hand-reared stuff which grows up columns in the posh papers – guaranteed organic, but liable to give you the runs.

  8. Editors


    That is indeed an interesting argument. However, he lets himself down by making the claim that all restrictive energy policy is the expression of Marxism, which links to his rather ill-conceived and partial attack on ‘collectivism’ on the basis that it leads to Stalinism and Nazism. It’s about 100 years out of date. Environmentalism isn’t a ‘collectivist’ ideology. It’s against the very principle of ‘collective action’, whilst also being counterposed to his own political ideas.

  9. Thinking Man

    Dear Editor,

    Thank you for your fine article and for your fine website. Forgive my dilatory comment here. I’ve only just found out about the discussion and, with respect, hope you’ll allow me to correct your erroneous recapitulation of my Peak Oil article.

    To begin with, I do not “make the claim” (as you say) “that all restrictive energy policy is the expression of Marxism” (emphasis mine). The reason I don’t make that claim is that it’s not fundamental enough: Marxism is only a species of the genus collectivism — one of many, I might add.

    I’m afraid also that you will search my words in vain for any reference to the word you attribute me: “Stalinism.”

    Nor, for the record, is my attack on collectivism “partial,” as you also say, but, on the contrary, plenary.

    Ultimately, there is no such thing as “collective action” because, as Ludwig von Mises, among others, noted: there is really no such thing as a collective. “A collective is merely an aggregate of individuals…. Individuals make up any group or collective, and it is only individuals who act…. A collective considered apart from the individuals who compose it is a contradiction…”

    Regarding my conviction that environmentalism is indeed collectivist to the core, I politely point your attention to my partial compendiation here:




    Individualism is the opposite of collectivism.

    Fundamentally, there are only two options in this arena: either the individual exists by right, or by permission. If it’s by permission, it’s a form of collectivism, since the individual is not allowed to act on her own behalf but is, rather, compelled to act, to whatever extent, for others. They’re are degrees, of course, but the specific form — whether Mercantilism, Nazism, Democratic Socialism, or the Stalism you mention — is, from a philosophical perspective, relatively superficial. It’s the principle that counts.

    The only political manifestation of individualism that is possible to humans is a political system that recognizes in full each and every individual’s right to life and property.

    Economically, this means private property is inalienable in the literal sense, and recognized as such by law. Property is the crux of freedom because property is nothing more, or less, than the extension of person: you can’t be said to possess the right to your own life if you are not free to sustain your life.

    The only alternative to private property is some form of communal or governmental ownership of property (both of which amount to the same thing: an elite bureau of centralized planners who delegate).

    In this way, Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greenpeace, speaking not one hundred years ago but one, was correct when he noted: “Environmentalism is nothing more than repackaged Marxism.”

  10. Editors

    Thinking Man,

    You say that we incorrectly attribute to you the argument that “all restrictive energy policy is the expression of Marxism” but at the end of the article linked to by DJ, you conclude that,

    “Which agenda is this: let your big benevolent government regulate and control fossil fuels and all other energy besides, and let this same big benevolent government control your property as well, and thereby your life. It’s called Environmentalism. But it’s really Neo-Marxism. And Marxism by any other name is, and always will be, the same plain old discredited Marxism.

    Whether or not our reading of your argument was complete, it was, we still think, accurate.

    The article which followed – ‘faces of death’ – indeed doesn’t mention Stalinism. Yet it is fairly plain that you were invoking the horrors of Soviet Russia. A conversation about the ‘correct’ interpretation of Marx involving Lenin would be meaningless otherwise.

    By ‘partial’, we did not mean ‘incomplete’, but ‘inclined’. That is to say ‘biased’. That is not to say that it is illegitimate to be ‘partial’ as is implied by ‘biased’, but that you rather casually lump together many 19th and 20th century political philosophies without much regard for the context of the time. In short, our criticism here is that you selectively use the horrors of the past to serve an agenda. In the context of the post above about the sense of doom surrounding the issue of oil reserves, this is especially pertinent. On the one hand there are the doom sayers who say that our way of life is ‘unsustainable’, on the other, your answer too seems to be that an inevitable catastrophe is the necessary consequence of any political idea which does not emphasise the primacy of private property. Our problem with both these arguments is that they seem to ask us only to understand the world is in terms of ‘inevitability’ than the voluntary commitment to ideas about how things could be organised – it robs people of the autonomy that you seem to be in favour of.

    “Ultimately, there is no such thing as “collective action”…”

    In that case, there’s no need for a website given over to the debunking of any political philosophy that might have the term ‘collectivist’ sloppily applied to it. For if there’s no such thing as collective action, then all those individuals which would comprise a would-be collective would in fact be acting as individuals, within a Nazi/Fascist/Socialist/Communist, or for that matter, capitalist society. After all, a market is an aggregate of individuals, is it not? That is its premise. It takes the collective effort of many people to make it work: some far more willingly than others. Your use of the term ‘collectivist’ is so broad that it is meaningless, and can easily be applied to the political ideas you seem to have embraced.

    “there are only two options in this arena: either the individual exists by right, or by permission.”

    Even the most fundamental ‘inalienable human rights’ do not exist without their recognition – in other words, by permission granted by those in a position to recognise them. There isn’t much difference. Your conception of a ‘right to life’ being an equivalent to a ‘right to have property’ has an obvious shortcoming: a right to possess a million dollars worth of real estate doesn’t give me a million dollars worth of real estate. Accordingly, if I lack property, I lack a life, yet I am deprived of my life for my lack of property. In other words I don’t actually have a right to a life. I can’t occupy anyone’s property – it is defended by their property rights. So who do I take my complaint to? To someone who will buy my labour? In which case, I have sought the permission of someone else for my existence, who grants it on the terms of their choosing – turning people into commodities doesn’t liberate them. Or perhaps I lose some property in a dispute with someone who is more powerful than I am. I take my complaint to a court. In this case too, I am seeking permission for my ‘rights’ to be recognised, subject to the interpretation of the law, rather than of the ‘rights’ themselves. There is a real problem with conceiving of rights in this way and we would suggest that far more areas of grey exists than in the black and white picture you’ve given us. The more important question, we believe, is about the legitimacy of ‘elite bureau of centralized planners who delegate’ (how are they any different to the courts and legal institutions you imagine will defend property rights?) and how such institutions are established. Society implies some collectivity, if only to create the idea of rights and institutions to protect them. How else do you propose ‘rights’ be established, or institutions to protect them made legitimate?

    Patrick Moore: “Environmentalism is nothing more than repackaged Marxism.”

    We couldn’t find Moore’s comment. A search for the term “nothing more than repackaged Marxism” on Google yields the same expression used on four occasions, to describe feminism, “Black Liberation Theology”, “modern liberalism”, and anti-theism, all very wrongly. It would add weight to your argument to borrow a more sophisticated quote. This ‘repackaged Marxism’ somehow appeals to the leader of the UK Conservatives, David Cameron, heir to the throne, Prince Charles, former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, Media giant, Rupert Murdoch and his son… So many Revolutionaries, but so little Marxism. The list of crypto Marxist capitalists who’ve all returned from some kind of road to Damascus grows as the trope weakens. Marxism, whatever its faults, is not feminism. It is not ‘black liberation theology’. It is not ‘modern liberalism’. It is not anti-theism. And it is simply not environmentalism. Frankly, Moore is just being lazy.

    Environmentalism is a unique phenomenon, arising out of today’s unique circumstances. The concern that industrial society will adversely alter the atmosphere and climate systems is over a century old. Yet it has not achieved political significance until now. We can find elements of environmentalism in plenty of conservative thinkers of the past, Thomas Malthus, for example – who was fiercely ‘debunked’ by Marx himself (and Lenin). But an account of environmentalism as ‘repackaged laissez faire classical economics’ would be insufficient. We have argued before that those who are opposed to environmentalism be they attached to the ideas of the Left or Right, ought to take some responsibility for environmentalism’s emergence, rather than explain it as the resurgence of the other. After all it’s not as if the economic theories promoted by your site have not had any influence over the last 60 years.

  11. Thinking Man

    Editors wrote: > You say that we incorrectly attribute to you the argument that “all restrictive energy policy is the expression of Marxism”

    Yes, I do say that. And, yes, you have.

    Editors wrote: > Whether or not our reading of your argument was complete, it was, we still think, accurate.

    Well, after reading your long and disappointing comment, I would candidly not expect anything less: incomplete but accurate. That’s interesting. Apart from the stated incompleteness, however, which you wisely concede, there’s also the singular fact that I don’t equate all restrictive energy policy (including that which is yet to be) with environmentalism. That’s something else you mis-attribute to me. In fact, the only restrictive energy policies that I equate with environmentalism are those that are either explicitly or implicitly environmentalist, which today are manifold and multifarious, of course.

    One more time, like so for the slow:

    Environmentalism is neo-Marxism, but not ALL restrictive energy policies — for instance, those that came before Karl Marx — are, as you say, “expressions of Marxism.”

    Most of them, however, are.

    Also, it’s interesting to note that the majority of higher-ups in the environmental movement don’t deny their Marxist roots, or their extreme antipathy toward the private ownership of the means of production, which is inherent to Marxism of every stripe; so I’m more than a little surprised at the lengths to which you both go in order to deny what they themselves do not. The article I linked to in my previous comment, is only the beginning of such lengthy quotes, coming straight from the source. I’ve compiled reams and reams of such quotations over the years, and there is simply no doubt: environmentalism is Marxist to the gills. You can deny this all you want, but it won’t change the fact. But would you really have us believe your poorly defended assertions over their own words and their own deeds? So many of these people who formed the big environmental organizations, whether Greenpeace, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Earth First!, and so on, are explicit Marxists, proud Marxists, who do not object to that term at all, certainly not in the way that you do.

    Editors wrote: > The article which followed – ‘faces of death’ [sic] – indeed doesn’t mention Stalinism.

    Indeed. I told you that. Yet you inexplicably attribute it to me in your comment to DJ (whom I’d like to thank, by the way, for the linkback), and I’m still not entirely sure why you attributed it to me in the first place — unless, like Patrick Moore, you were just “being lazy.” Nor, for the record, do any of my other articles mention Stalinism.

    Editors wrote: > Yet it is fairly plain that you were invoking the horrors of Soviet Russia.

    Fairly plain? To whom, Editors? And is “fairly plain” anything like “kind of unique”? Actually, though, you’re wrong again, inasmuch as I was not exclusively “invoking the horrors of Soviet Russia” as the term Stalinism fairly plainly implies. Indeed, in many ways, my point was the opposite: it’s not just Soviet Russia that ended in economic failure and oceans of bloodshed, but any and every large society that has attempted to implement the collectivization of property. I’m afraid your inference is off-the-mark — and I ought to know, since I’m the one who wrote the article.

    Editors wrote: > A conversation about the ‘correct’ interpretation of Marx involving Lenin would be meaningless otherwise [i.e. without “Stalinism”].

    Meaningless? Which implies that no “meaningful” conversation can be had about Lenin’s interpretation of Karl Marx and Hegel’s Logic unless Stalinism is included? That’s preposterous, and I hope it’s beneath you. I’ll tell you what, though: you sign that, have it notarized, and I’ll take it under consideration. Meanwhile, I do very much hope that this is not, as it seems, just a big equivocation on your part so that you can avoid admitting point blank what’s rather obvious to the rest of us: namely, that you were wrong: you mis-attributed to me the word “Stalinism” — and all that that word implies, which is a lot, in my book.

    Editors wrote: > you rather casually lump together many 19th and 20th century political philosophies without much regard for the context of the time.

    Casually! My dear Editors, I assure you that my lumping together, as you say, is anything but casual. On the contrary, it’s done with utmost severity, and done also, you’ll be pleased to know, with a great regard for history, of which I am a devotee.

    Editors wrote: > On the one hand there are the doom sayers [sic] who say that our way of life is ‘unsustainable’

    Yes, there certainly are those on the one hand.

    Editors wrote: > on the other, your answer too seems to be that an inevitable catastrophe is the necessary consequence of any political idea which does not emphasise [sic] the primacy of private property.

    I much prefer “inalienability” to “primacy,” because it’s more precise. But, yes: private property — specifically, private ownership of the means of production — is the sine qua non of human freedom, as history has proven time and again. The abolition of private property, to the exact extent to which it is abolished, results in catastrophe. It can happen no other way, I’m afraid, because humans must produce in order to live and flourish. Your desire for the inalienable right to life and property to be negated, to whatever extent, is for this reason extraordinarily dangerous.

    Editors wrote: > Our problem with both these arguments is that they seem to ask us only to understand the world is in [sic] terms of ‘inevitability’ than [sic] the voluntary commitment to ideas about how things could be organised

    Obviously, there are axiomatic standards by which all societal actions are gauged, and to which all members of a society must be held. Cold-blooded murder, for instance, rape, extortion, assault, violent or forcible expropriation — these and so many others must be prohibited by law, and not as a “voluntary” option, which some may choose to observe while others, with equal impunity, need not, simply because they don’t volunteer to. In fact, that is one of the main reasons the Constitutional framers of the United States referred to America as a “country of laws”: because laws are objectively codified and not, in theory (we’ve come a long way), voluntary, or subject to vote. I personally don’t care for your use of the word “inevitable,” but if you want to call the intransigent prohibition of force an “inevitability,” then okay. It is. It’s inevitable that to establish a free and just society, there must be an absolute ban on the initiation of force. In the words of the polymathic Wilhelm von Humboldt, who, as I’ve noted before, was friend to both Goethe and Schiller:

    Any State interference in private affairs, where there is no reference to violence done to individual rights, should be absolutely condemned…. To provide for the security of its citizens, the state must prohibit or restrict such actions, relating directly to the agents only, as imply in their consequences the infringement of others’ rights, or encroach on their freedom of property without their consent or against their will…. Beyond this every limitation of personal freedom lies outside the limits of state action (Wilhelm von Humboldt, The Limits of State Action, 1791).


    Nobody has the moral right to seek his own advantage by force. That is the one unalterable, inviolable condition of a true society. Whether we are many, or whether we are few, we must learn only to use the weapons of reason, discussion, and persuasion…. As long as men are willing to make use of force for their own ends, or to make use of fraud, which is only force in disguise, wearing a mask, and evading our consent, just as force with violence openly disregards it – so long we must use force to restrain force. That is the one and only one right employment of force … force in the defense of the plain simple rights of property, public or private, in a world, of all the rights of self-ownership – force used defensively against force used aggressively (Auberon Herbert, The Principles of Voluntaryism, 1897).

    Editors wrote: > it robs people of the autonomy that you seem to be in favour of.

    There’s no “autonomy” to initiate force against another. And if you’re arguing that, you’re arguing the tired amoralist position. Your first example does “rob autonomy,” but an absolute prohibition against the initiation of force does not. The autonomy, which — you are correct — I am indeed in favor of, stops exactly where another’s begins. That is the only standard you’ll ever need to know. Your “voluntary” adherence must obey the fact that no one may lawfully initiate force, directly or indirectly, against another. That is the final standard of all justice. If you advocate, as you do, “a voluntary commitment to ideas,” those ideas, whatever they are, must still, if freedom and justice are the goal (and they are), completely obey the principle that none may initiate force upon the person or property of another. If you deny that, you advocate, to the degree that you deny it, an unjust society; you advocate as well the jettisoning of objective law in favor of arbitrary law, all in the name of “a voluntary commitment to [nebulous] ideas.” Freedom and justice by definition require laws. You cannot force someone to act voluntarily, much as you evidently wish you could, all in the name of avoiding “inevitability.”

    Editors wrote: > In that case [if there’s no such thing as a collective], there’s no need for a website given over to the debunking of any political philosophy that might have the term ‘collectivist’ sloppily applied to it.

    Implying that if it’s not sloppily applied, there is a need for it. Both are false. There is a need, loosely speaking: specifically, the need to point out that only individuals act, whether in isolation or in groups. You’ll never be able to get around that fact, I’m afraid.

    Editors wrote: > all those individuals which would comprise a would-be collective would in fact be acting as individuals

    Yes, there you’ve got it. Each individual, by definition, has a will, and each individual, therefore, chooses to act, or not — unless (and this is important) the individual is forced to act. But even then, it’s the individual, not the “collective,” who’s acting. Force is the negation of choice. Just incidentally, “comprise” means “contain” or “include” — as in: Nabokov’s moth collection comprises several rare specimens. It does not mean “compose.”

    Editors wrote: > After all, a market is an aggregate of individuals

    Yes, in part.

    Editors wrote: > It takes the collective effort of many people to make it work

    Not necessarily, no. For instance, a working, successful market transaction can take place between only two people, and indeed often does, like my ex-wife and the guy she used to buy her drugs from. In any case, for markets to work, it only takes individuals acting on behalf of their own self-interest. As Adam Smith explained it:

    A person will be more likely to prevail if he can interest another’s self-love in his favor, and show him that it is for his own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want…. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest…. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow citizens (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776).

    The important thing to note, of course, is that each market transaction is initiated and completed by the individual. If you actually doubt this — and I can’t believe that you do — just observe yourself and those around you next time you go to a store, or a bar, or a restaurant, or a car lot, and see how each of those transactions are taking place among individuals.

    Editors wrote: > Your use of the term ‘collectivist’ is so broad that it is meaningless

    This charge of meaninglessness is, I fear, becoming a mannerism on your part. Still, I apologize for not expressing myself as cogently as you. In my defense, however, I’m not, at least, nearly as redundant, nor (I pray) as stylistically flabby, especially with regard to this use of the phrase “seems to,” which you seem to be enamored of. Actually, though, my use of the term “collectivist” is not by any means original. In fact, I’m using it in the standard economic sense, which I was taught, and so your charge of meaningless applies to a very long line of thinkers. “The human essence is the true collectivity of man,” said Karl Marx, and went on to propound that the individual has, at best, only partial identity apart from a collective, which is a grouping of individuals.


    Collectivist means the subjugation of the individual to the group — whether to a race, class, or state does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to the collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called “the common good” (Readers Digest, “The Only Path to Tomorrow”).


    The philosophy of collectivism upholds the existence of a social organism, while denying the reality of perceived individuals (Peikoff, “Nazism vs. Reason”).


    According to the doctrines of collectivism … society is an entity living its own life, independent of and separate from the lives of the various individuals, acting on its own behalf and aiming at its own ends which are different from the ends sought by the individuals. Then, of course, an antagonism between the aims of society and those of its members can emerge. In order to safeguard the flowering and further development of society it becomes necessary to master the selfishness of the individuals and to compel them to sacrifice their egoistic designs to the benefit of society…. The essential problem of all varieties of universalistic, collectivistic, and holistic social philosophy is: by what mark do I recognize the true law, the authentic apostle of God’s word, and the legitimate authority. For many claim that Providence has sent them, and each of these prophets preaches another gospel. For the faithful believer there cannot be any doubt; he is fully confident that he has espoused the only true doctrine. But it is precisely the firmness of such beliefs that renders the antagonisms irreconcilable. Each party is prepared to make its own tenets prevail. But as logical argumentation cannot decide between various dissenting creeds, there is no means left for the settlement of such disputes other than armed conflict. The nonrationalist, nonutilitarian, and nonliberal social doctrines must beget wars and civil wars until one of the adversaries is annihilated or subdued. The history of the world’s great religions is a record of battles and wars, as is the history of the present-day counterfeit religions, socialism, statolatry, and nationalism (Ludwig von Mises, Human Action).


    It is not [a collectivist] mankind, state, or the corporative unit that acts, but individual men … and their valuations and their action are decisive, not those of abstract collectivities (Mises, Epistemological Problems of Economics).


    Since only an individual can possess rights, the expression “individual rights” is a redundancy (which one has to use for purposes of clarification in today’s intellectual chaos). But the expression “collective right” is a contradiction in terms. A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does not possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations. [Rights] are not subject to vote; a [collective] majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).


    The main characteristic of collectivism is that it does not take notice of the individuals will and moral self-determination (von Mises, The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science).

    [The collectivist doctrine] is a doctrine of war, intolerance, and persecution. If any of the collectivist creeds should succeed in its endeavors, all people but the great dictator would be deprived of their essential human quality. They would become mere soulless pawns in the hands of a monster…. The collectivist idolizes only the one true church, only the great nation, only the true state, the true collective; everything else they condemn. For that reason all collectivists doctrines are harbingers of irreconcilable hatred and war to the death…. When the collectivist extols the state, what he means is not every state but only that regime of which he approves, no matter whether this legitimate state exists already or has to be created (Ibid).

    Editors, if you disapprove of the economic definition upon which I’ve based my own usage of the term “collectivist,” I suggest you try Oxford’s definition. I doubt, however, that you’ll be any more satisfied with it, inasmuch as it makes my case more firm by explicitly tying the term to socialism. Thus:

    collectivist: one who adheres to the theory of collectivism.

    collectivism: The socialist theory of the collective ownership or control of all the means of production, by the whole community or state, i.e. the people collectively (Oxford English Dictionary, unabridged, 2004).

    You see, words by their very nature denote specific things; a collective is a specific thing. The name alone — forget how I personally use it — goes far in telling you what it means: a collective is a collection of individuals. I’m sorry, but that’s what the term means. If you object because you think its meaning is “over-general,” I suggest you start campaigning now to get your preferred definition into the cannon — which preferred definition, I cannot help but note, you don’t bother to elaborate upon, and so I’m not exactly sure how you would have me use it, not that I really care. I prefer the actual meaning. And the actual meaning can be apprehended by simply observing what a collective is. It’s a group of individuals. I’m afraid all your circumlocutions and equivocations do not alter that fact.

    Editors wrote: > Even the most fundamental ‘inalienable human rights’ do not exist without their recognition

    That’s not only incorrect, it’s egregiously incorrect. And it’s the source from which all your subsequent and horrible confusion flows. Rights exist; and if they’re not recognized, those rights are being trammeled. What you advance in saying what you say above is a form of relativism, which is a form of subjectivism, both of which are monstrous pseudo-philosophies. From that spectacularly faulty premise, you then proceed to construct an embarrassingly convoluted (non)argument. Do yourself a huge favor, I beg, before you go off half-cocked again: think this through. I swear to you that your rights exist whether they’re recognized or not, and I swear to you that if you take the opposite stance, you’re on the wrong side of the argument: the amoralist side. The very term “inalienable” means “that which cannot be taken away, revoked, or transferred.” That’s why rights exist whether they’re recognized or not. That’s what inalienable means. What you’re saying is tantamount to saying that a black man is not human being if he’s not recognized as one. False! Rights are discoveries, not inventions. Rights exist whether Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, Joseph Goebbles, and so on, recognize them or not. And if these people do not recognize them, they are in the wrong, and rights are violated, because they exist whether or not they’re recognized. If you elaborate on that one thing in your own individual (as opposed to collective) brain, it will, I guarantee, answer the rest of your comment. But here’s a little more for you to go on:

    Right are inalienable in this sense:

    Persons unaccustomed to attach exact meanings to words will say that the fact that a man may be unjustly executed or imprisoned negates this proposition [of inalienable rights]. It does not. The right is with the victim nonetheless; and very literally it cannot be alienated, for alienated means passing into the possession of another. One man cannot enjoy either the life or liberty of another. If he kills ten men he will not thereby live ten lives or ten times as long; nor is he more free if he puts another man in prison. Rights are by definition inalienable: only privileges can be transferred. Even the right to own property cannot be alienated or transferred, though a given item of property can be. If one man’s rights are infringed, no other man obtains them; on the contrary, all men are thereby threatened with a similar injury (Isabel Paterson, God of the Machine, 1943).

    If rights are not recognized, it doesn’t mean that they simply go away, or that they never existed. If that were the case, it would mean that rights are granted, which they are not: rights reside in the human faculty of conceptualization — i.e. the rational faculty — which humans alone possess. More specifically, rights reside in human individuation and the capacity of choice which gives rise to moral agency. I can candidly see that you’ve not even begun to consider the nature of rights, and I advise you strongly against opposing their inherent nature without first calculating the cost of that opposition; you will only beclown yourself more. The concept of rights is extraordinarily complex, and a comment box is not the place for a systematic explication. But know this, at the very least: Rights apply to action — freedom of action, specifically. And freedom in a political context is one thing alone: it is the absence of coercion.

    Liberty is this:

    Freedom from physical compulsion, coercion, or interference by other men. For every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive — of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights. The right to life is the source of all rights — and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since humans must sustain their lives by effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product is slave (“Man’s Rights,” 1964).

    Anent property, your fundamental error, as I’ve already intimated, is in your serious misunderstanding of what the term property actually denotes. Property is not merely material goods. Property is the right of use and disposal. Property “is not only money and other tangible things of value, but also includes any intangible right considered as a source or element of income or wealth… It is the right to enjoy and to dispose of certain things in the most absolute manner” (Electric Law Library).

    Like all other rights, the right to property is first and foremost the right to an action. It is not fundamentally the right to an object (that is secondary) but to the act that produces and earns the object. Rights do not guarantee, as you suggest they should, that anyone will earn property; they only guarantee that you are free to try to earn it, so long as you do not infringe upon the identical rights of others in the process. They guarantee also that you will own it if you do earn it.

    Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place….
    Property is prior to law; the sole function of the law is to safeguard the right to property wherever it exists, wherever it is formed, in whatever manner the worker produces it, whether individually or in association, provided that he respects the rights of others… Law is the organization of the natural right to legitimate self-defense, it is the substitution of collective force for individual forces, to act in the sphere in which they have the right to act, to do what they have the right to do: to guarantee security of person, liberty, and property rights, to cause justice to reign over all
    (Claude Frederic Bastiat, The Law, 1840).

    That is why the defining characteristic of socialism, in any and all of its manifestations, is the abolition of private property to any degree. That is why I can confidently tell you, as I already have told you, that all forms of socialism, including Mercantilism, Marxism, neo-Marxism, your baby Stalinism, environmentalism, and many, many more, are nothing but a species of the genus collectivism.

    Editors wrote: > The list of crypto Marxist capitalists who’ve all returned from some kind of road to Damascus grows as the trope weakens.

    Marxist-capitalist, with a hyphen or without, is a contradiction in terms.

    Editors wrote: > Marxism, whatever its faults, is not feminism.

    Actually, that’s true: it’s the other way around, and you’ve got it backwards. Feminism is a variation of Marxism. And the collective that feminism advocates is obvious. Feminism indeed has its special stance on property.

    Editors wrote: > [Marxism] is not ‘black liberation theology’.

    Right. Black liberation theology and black nationalism are a variation upon Marxism. Their collective too is obvious, and they also take a very specific position on the subject of property.

    Editors wrote: > It is not ‘modern liberalism’.

    Right: the other way around again. Modern liberalism (with quotation marx or without) is a variation upon Marxism. They’re stance on property is even more in-your-face than the others, believe it or not.

    Editors wrote: > And it is simply not environmentalism.

    Correct again: Marxism is not environmentalism; environmentalism is a variation upon Marxism. And the environmental movement’s stance on property — well, that goes without saying, doesn’t it. In the words of the Yellowstone Coalition:

    “Private property is just a sacred cow.”

    And in the words of Sierra Club:

    “The goal now is a socialist, redistributionist society, which is nature’s proper steward and society’s only hope.”

    And in the words of the Green Party’s first American Presidential candidate Barry Commoner:

    “Nothing less than a change in the political and social system, including revision of the Constitution, is necessary to save the country from destroying the natural environment…. Capitalism is the earth’s number one enemy.”

    And in the words of Barry Commoner again:

    “Environmental pollution is a sign of major incompatibility between our system of production and the environmental system that supports it. [The socialist way is better because] the theory of socialist economics does not appear to require that growth should continue indefinitely.”

    And in the words of environmentalist Harvey Ruin, of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, Dade County Florida: “Individual rights will have to take a back seat to the collective.”

    And so on.

    Editors wrote: > Frankly, Moore is just being lazy.

    Frankly, that comment strikes this reader, at least, as the raven chiding its own blackness — big time. Especially in light of your listless remarks above.

    Private ownership of the means of production is, I’ll say it again, the crux of freedom. With regard to this, there’s only two possible attitudes to take on the issue: it’s either private or it’s not, and it’s on that issue that every political philosophy is fully disclosed. That is why it doesn’t matter how new or recent environmentalism, feminism, and black nationalism are on the political scene. That is also why it doesn’t matter how ancient mercantilism is: The individual’s inalienable right to life and private ownership of the means of production constitutes freedom. The abolition of it, no matter what flag it flies under, green, black, or red, is the opposite. Editors, when you begin to think in principles, you’ll begin to grasp this fact.

    “Control the property, control the person.”

    Said V.I. Lenin, correctly, and without any reference whatsoever to Stalinism.

  12. George Carty


    Marxists attacked capitalism from the Left, seeking to build a society which would be better for working-class people.

    Environmentalists attack capitalism from the Right, seeking to return to an imaginary pre-industrial idyll.

    I wonder if “Thinking Man” is North American? Because North America never had feudalism, its inhabitants often incorrectly assume that capitalism and conservatism are one and the same.

  13. Editors

    Thinking Man, your reply is too long to offer a full response to.

    It is fairly plain, however, that your determination to identify all the ideas that you are opposed to as one neat enemy forces you to ignore first their substantial differences. This also forces you to ignore the historical context in which they developed (as if fascism, nazism, socialism … all the ‘isms including capitalism could be understood without an understanding of modern history) which seems to imply that the problems of capitalism weren’t key to the emergence of these ideas. That’s a woeful starting point for an attempt to understand the present, let alone create a future. Third, you are forced to ignore inconvenient facts, like the fact that many contemporary greens are responding not to Marx, but to Malthus. Not everything can be understood in such binary, oppositional terms as you seem to imagine, to which there can be only one right, and one wrong. Perhaps you need to read some of that Hegel you object to on your website, and work out some kind of synthesis?

    Or would that make you some kind of collectivist Marxist socialist feminist nazi fascist anti-theist anarchist?

  14. Magnus

    Thanks for all the great posts at this great blog!

    /magnus (not so active anti-AGW blogger)


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