In large parts of the oldest civilized region of the world, you will find in nearly every room a pretty blue charm that looks like an eye. It’s in the front entrance of homes, somewhere in every room, on boats, in airports, in restaurants, and built into the designs of everything from wallpaper to grocery bags. It’s on jewelry, wind chimes, and serving plates.
It is common in the Aegean Sea region but encompasses all countries and religious traditions. Though it’s never received endorsement from any clerical body — they consider it a silly superstition — it is found in the histories of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. In Turkey, from where I just returned, it’s called the nazar boncugu. That’s Turkish, but in Arabic it is ayn al-hasud. In Hebrew it is ayn ha-r a. In Greek, it is το µΆτι, and in Spanish, it is mal de ojo.
Its purpose is to ward off the evil eye. What is that? Americans imagine that it is some ancient myth that has no relevance to modernity. Actually, the evil eye is right now destroying prosperity in the United States. The more it is doing this, the less we hear about it. Far from being some primitive idea, the evil eye is summed up in a wicked vice we don’t hear about anymore: envy.
The evil eye looks for success and wishes for its destruction. It is different from jealousy in that sense. It doesn’t desire the wealth or happiness of another. It wants the other to suffer because of the other’s wealth, fame, success, or happiness. People since the ancient world have feared this impulse more than any other. It is more dangerous to persons and society than any natural disaster. It is a greater threat day to day than floods, hurricanes, or wild beasts.
In other words, the concept of the evil eye grows out of a very real conviction that the greatest threat to human flourishing is the malice of human beings who resent success. And that is actually a very keen insight! No wonder it’s had such traction in all religions for so long.
Further, the charm here looks like an eye too, though its purpose is to fight the evil eye. The best way to fight the evil eye, in this tradition, is to look straight back at it. That’s what the nazar does. It’s an eye for an eye.
In political theory, this would mean secure property rights. It would mean a legal regime that prohibits the realization of envy. Even if you feel envy in your heart, you can’t use institutional measures to see it enacted.
And yet envy — the evil eye — is the basis of vast amounts of American domestic policy. We tax rich people not because that helps the poor in a material sense but only because it is fun to make the rich suffer. We squeeze middle-class amenities not because it’s good for the social order, but because many organized groups don’t like to see the hoi polloi living well. We block opportunities for business not because that enhances productivity, but because it frustrates the cause of moneymaking.
This is envy at work. It shows up in progressive taxation, of course. And the capital gains tax. And the inheritance tax. Even the sales tax. But it also shows up in monetary policies designed to harm savers and please the debt-ridden classes (especially politicians). It is there in transfer programs that spread as much damage to everyone as possible. It is there is foreign policies that bomb civilized countries, turning them into zones of death and suffering and calling it victory.
A world without institutionalized envy is what we’ve come to call the free society. A world with it is what we’ve come to call statism. Therefore, we can see that the nazar is a libertarian symbol. It is the old world’s version of the Gadsden flag. It says: Don’t tread on me. As a symbol, it is richer in moral content than the coiled snake, and more elegant from an artistic point of view.
Given this, who wouldn’t want it hanging in every space where human beings are working toward a better life? It belongs in every home, workplace, or public space. It should be carried on our person and flashed at every sign of threat. I wouldn’t dare watch the presidential debates without a nazar nearby!
The nazar was in every airport in the Aegean Sea region. And sure enough, people at the airport are treated decently. Security was a breeze. They look at your passport, make sure you aren’t carrying deadly weaponry, and let you go with a smile. And this was even true in Turkey, a country that has every reason to fear real terrorism. After all, it is a secularized Muslim country and an ally of Israel. It is surrounded by enemies. And yet, thanks to the nazar, the passenger feels no threat from the security apparatus.
Actually, the nazar is everywhere in Bodrum, Turkey. And sure enough, I didn’t see a single cop anywhere. Once while walking through an upscale commercial mall, I saw a badge. I asked the woman if she was with the police. She corrected me that she is security, private security, and then flashed a warm smile. The nazar is working its magic here!
But once arriving in the U.S., I didn’t see an nazar. Instead, while at immigration control, everyone watched a propaganda film with a faux-Copland musical score that told all about the glory of American freedoms. Ahead of me in line was a nice family from mainland China, a father dressed in a suit, a busy mom in a dress, and two kids in strollers. They were held for 20 minutes while the rest of us waited. The immigration official forced them to be fingerprinted and handprinted and retina scanned fully three times, and they were interrogated intensely. They were clearly being humiliated, but they maintained a disciplined posture of calm.
I caught up with the father in the airport tram later. I apologized for how he was treated, explaining that while government is getting less invasive in China, it is getting worse in the U.S. He smiled at me and then asked: “Do Americans hate their government as much as the Chinese people do?” I answered with some wishful thinking to make him feel better: “Yes, the American people do not like their government. It is the common enemy of all mankind.” He smiled again, and seem to feel a sense of relief.
The nazar could do a world of good at the U.S. border. In fact, it should be hung in every bureaucracy. Maybe the Washington Monument should just be replaced completely with a giant blue eye to stare back at the bureaucrats, when they stare at all. We need the nazar at every bank, in every home, at every business, and in every commercial center. An eye for an eye. A world safe from the effects of envy.