Donald Trump, who is sued for defamation by writer Jean Carroll, mumbled his discontent visibly or loudly enough yesterday during the latter’s testimony that the judge threatened to remove him. It is tempting to relate this to what he previously advocated for libel laws and also to Princess Mathilde, a niece of Napoléon Bonaparte (portrayed in the featured image of this post). (Libel is written defamation, although I am not sure if Mr. Trump knew or cared about the difference.)

When he was running for the presidency in 2016, Trump famously said that he would strengthen libel laws to make suits easier to win. He was targeting his political enemies in the press but the changes he adumbrated might have helped Ms. Carroll’s suit. In February 2016, he said (the short accompanying video is also worth watching):

One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.

Trump repeated his threat in 2018.

In other countries, notably the United Kingdom, defamation laws are easier to invoke so that the rich and powerful are better able to silence writers and critics with suits or threats thereof. That somebody can be sued for disclosing information about another person does not sit well with libertarian ideals, especially when the information is true and no harassment is involved. Murray Rothbard argued against any ban on defamation. At any rate, defamation laws are an easy tool against free speech.

Some people entertain a hedonistic-narcissistic conception of the state, whereby anything that the state does to favor them is good, and anything that the state does not do to favor them is condemnable. Mr. Trump is not the only one to embrace this conception, but he does it with a vengeance and little attempt at coherence. Anthony de Jasay illustrated hedonistic-narcissistic statism with Princess Mathilde. In his article “Before Resorting to Politics,” reproduced in his book Against Politics, de Jasay’s writes:

Why does anyone want to resort to politics and why does anyone put one kind of political order above another? Those who are both very earthy and very frank approve the one they believe is doing the most good for them.

He then quotes Jacques Bainville, a French old-style conservative (anti-liberal) historian and political writer (the translation is de Jasay’s):

The way truly to understand history is the way of Princess Mathilde [Bonaparte]. She would not forgive those who spoke ill of Napoleon because, as she explained, “without that man, I should be selling oranges on the wharf in Marseilles.”

This is an unavoidable fact if and only if the state has the power to make anybody happy at the detriment of others or miserable in order to favor others. Bainville had nothing against that. Classical liberals and libertarians do.