Diddling While Rome Burns

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Your humble social media correspondent is troubled. For some time now, discord among warring libertarians has raged on Facebook, my own battlefield of choice. In just the past few days it has gotten uglier than ever among my own libertarian Facebook friends.

One friend — whom I also know personally — has gone on an unholy tear about the injustices of life as a tenant. “Rent is theft!” his posts repeatedly scream. I’ve always considered him a levelheaded person. I have no idea what’s happened to him. A lot of people are quitting him because he’s gone to a place so dark they don’t want to follow.

In just the past few days it has gotten uglier than ever among my own libertarian Facebook friends.

I know he leans far left. Like a lot of former statist progressives, he’s outraged about something practically all the time. He sees it as his personal mission to convert as many as possible of his comrades to left-libertarianism. I suppose you could say that he’s the Apostle Paul of that faction. But if all he has to give these hungry souls is more outrage and aggrievement, I think he’s offering pretty thin gruel.

In my previous essay in Liberty I alluded to the compulsion I see in so many people to dress up in fancy and heroic costumes. As this turbulence on Facebook was something I was already facing daily, I had it at least partially in mind. Almost everybody involved is between 19 and 25, looking for a girlfriend (or in some cases, a boyfriend) and hoping to appear edgy and revolutionary. I know I must be getting old, because the whole production is making me tired and cranky.

These people need to take a good, hard look around them. I can’t imagine where they’re getting the notion that our increasingly police-state and nuclear-faceoff world really cares whether they’re AnCap, AnSoc or AnCom. Their mothers might have cared, in a worried, “Do you have a tummyache, dear?” sort of way, and their buds at the dorm probably found it mildly engrossing over pizza and beer. But they’re supposed to be adults now, and they’re merely diddling while Rome burns.

We’ve all got a lot of heavy lifting to do if we are even going to budge this society in a libertarian direction. The blessed time when we might profitably haggle about what type of libertarian society we’re going to have — just exactly, and to a precise ideological point — is one that neither I, nor anyone reading this essay, will ever live to see. It may be as distant in the future as the American Revolution is in the past. In the meantime, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are standing for what is right and that each of us is doing our personal utmost to work toward that worthy goal. Ordering fries with that is simply not an option.

Where are they getting the notion that our increasingly police-state and nuclear-faceoff world really cares whether they’re AnCap, AnSoc or AnCom?

I’m glad to see so many new converts to the liberty movement, especially among the young, but I fear that few of them will persevere long enough to see their commitment through. I think it’s very likely that they’ll get discouraged by the tough slog, and end up returning to statism — a hefty part of the appeal of which is the promise of an order of fries with that. To switch metaphors yet again, we now find ourselves stuck in Siberia, but hope to row, in our huge fleet of leaky rowboats, clear to Honolulu. As we navigate the stormy waters between us and our destination, will they turn aside and end up shipwrecked on Alcatraz?

We’ll all just have to stay tuned. I know that I’ll continue to follow the soap opera. And I fully intend to persevere on our journey. I don’t needa side of fries — though there are some days when I yearn for an aspirin, the size of a hockey puck.




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Climate Change Wars

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Who’s right?

In the climate change controversies, the Left and the Right are at daggers drawn. The Left overwhelms with data, models, and prognostications warning of environmental disaster because atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased from an historic base level (by volume) of 0.03% to the present 0.04% — a huge percentage increase in raw CO2 levels, but a miniscule amount as a percentage of the entire atmosphere. The change, it is said, results from human activity, which must therefore be restricted.

The Right is skeptical of the data and how they’re gathered, often with much confirmation bias. It questions the models’ inputs and premises, and their ability to predict future conditions accurately. It accuses the Left of ignoring solar flare cycles, the possibility that earth is warming because we’re still coming out of the last Pleistocene ice age, and just plain old random fluctuations — the last three causes having nothing to do with human activity, which therefore needs no further restriction.

The Left overwhelms with data, models, and prognostications warning of environmental disaster.

But most of all, the dispute is about increasing government power. The Left’s solution to climate change is to put more controls on the economy. To the Right, this solution suggests an unnecessary power grab that would further restrict liberty and keep the world’s poor from pulling themselves up by their bootstraps — all for questionable results from reforms based on speculative premises.

The battle lines have been drawn along ideological lines, with science — both good and bad — playing second fiddle: most people just don’t have the knowledge or critical skills to evaluate the methodology and all the factors, conclusions, and opinions.

Fortunately, there is a third approach, one that relies on the Hayekian insight that markets are much better at analyzing all available data than any one individual, institution, or government (and I would include computers in that list) could possibly be. This is the approach taken by PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center, a libertarian thinktank dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets.

The Right is skeptical of the data and how they’re gathered, often with much confirmation bias.

It makes little difference whether the United States remained in or left the 2015 Paris Climate Accords: the agreed upon CO2 reduction levels were minimal, unreachable, and unenforceable. And despite the fact that carbon emissions from US power generation are at a 25-year low (thanks in part to fracking and cheap natural gas), “global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are steadily increasing and show no signs of slowing,” according to Shawn Regan, research fellow and executive editor of the PERC Reports.

Let’s admit it: solving the perceived problem of climate change on a global scale would be economically devastating, politically unattainable, and practically impossible. So PERC’s latest report focuses on adaptation, a concept heretofore deemed either taboo or irrelevant.

Al Gore dismissed adaptation as a “kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in our ability to react in time to save our skins.” Many others, says Regan, claimed that “focusing on adaptation would only distract from accepting costly carbon mitigation policies.”

Fortunately, there is a third approach, one that relies on the Hayekian insight that markets are much better at analyzing all available data than any one individual, institution, or government could possibly be.

But adaptation is the name of the game, and market forces are already at work — and have been for a long time, even though they’re seldom heralded by the media. As the latest PERC Reports (Vol. 36, Issue 1, Summer 2017) puts it:

Market prices send signals about local conditions that no central planner or scientific expert could possibly know. Property rights give resource owners the incentives necessary to adjust to changing conditions. If sea levels rise or crop yields decline, property owners have good reason to act — whether to invest in protections or innovations.

Some of the issues addressed by PERC’s scholars in the winter edition include how wheat production has, since the 1850s, adapted to a fluctuating climate (yes, the climate is not static); how wheat is increasingly being grown in harsher climates; how the global coffee sector is adapting to hotter conditions; how financial instruments are helping water traffic cope with the Mississippi’s erratic fluctuations; how free markets help cities adapt to climate change, through innovative designs in architecture and construction in flood-prone areas; and how urban growth — yes, urban growth — can do the same, through naturally occurring evolutionary redevelopments according to principles recognized by the late Jane Jacobs, doyenne and scourge of city planners. An analysis entitled “The Hole in the EPA’s Ozone Regulations” illustrates the way in which one-size-fits-all government edicts are prone to being gamed by those affected, and shows how an innovative contract in southern Arizona pays farmers to conserve water.

But PERC doesn’t limit itself to climate controversies. It is to environmental policy what the Cato Institute is to political and economic policy. All of PERC’s scholars are well-placed experts with impressive credentials.Two of its resident scholars are Liberty editor Randal O’Toole and water policy expert Terry L. Anderson, director of PERC and also a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Anderson is the author of a groundbreaking book, Water Crisis: Ending the Policy Drought (1983). I particularly recall the influence that his ideas exerted on Sam Steiger, Republican Congressman, water company entrepreneur, and policy expert, the first libertarian mayor of my city, Prescott, Arizona and the first Libertarian Party candidate for governor. Steiger’s over-5% vote tally put Libertarians on the Arizona ballot, seemingly for good.

Adaptation is the name of the game, and market forces are already at work — and have been for a long time.

But I digress. Other PERC reports focus on how privately organized, ground-up, rights-based fishing groups have evolved in Fiji, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Northern Australia, Belize, and other places, protecting near-shore fish and near-shore fishermen’s livelihoods. There are PERC articles assessing the runaway costs of the federal government’s wild horse program, and showing how human-wildlife conflicts were mitigated when elk were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One fascinating piece is an interview with and profile of Ryan Zinke, President Trump’s interior secretary, who arrived at his new job dressed in boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat, seated somewhat awkwardly on an English saddle atop a 17-year-old Irish sport horse ridden through the streets of Washington. Another is a contrast between the policies advocated by such environmental organizations as the Wilderness Society and the Audubon Society and the way in which they manage their own properties.

PERC’s analyses focus on politically achievable and practical ends. The organization’s style is thinktank noncontroversial. The appeal to libertarians is clear.




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Crypto-Antifascists

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Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-Nazis are vile, fascist thugs. They have been routinely denounced for decades by both political parties, incessantly so after the Unite the Right rally of August 12 at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally, ostensibly to protest the removal of Confederate statues, did not take place. Under lax police tactics, which have been criticized by both protestors and counter-protestors, 34 people were injured, only four people were arrested, and one woman was killed by a person, likely deranged, who supported the rightwing ralliers.

Antifa (short for Anti-Fascist) is a nationwide network of masked, left-wing agitators and anarchists who have taken it upon themselves to protect communities from right-wing fascists and racists. Their standard mode of operation is to descend upon suspicious events (e.g., rallies, marches, and speaking engagements) to shut down free, but hateful, speech, thereby preventing the violence that it will surely cause — doing so often with violence, which they openly embrace, and, preferably, without police assistance, which they openly reject. In an article in The Atlantic, “The Rise of the Violent Left,” Peter Beinart writes, “They pressure venues to deny white supremacists space to meet. They pressure employers to fire them and landlords to evict them. And when people they deem racists and fascists manage to assemble, antifa’s partisans try to break up their gatherings, including by force.”

Under lax police tactics, which have been criticized by both protestors and counter-protestors, 34 people were injured, only four people were arrested, and one woman was killed.

So far so good, you may be thinking. But before you run out to purchase your mask, black hoodie, and bat, before you head down to the local alt-Left recruitment office to enlist, consider that the universe of fascism extends far beyond the villainous skinhead demographic that you have always despised. That unsuspecting bigot whom you are itching to sneak up behind and cold-cock might be your neighbor, a fellow employee, a relative, perhaps. To the alt-Left, and to the sycophantic news media, academia, and Democrat party, America is awash with fascists and racists.

According to an author featured by CNN, everyone who voted for President Trump is “by default” a white supremacist. And, notes Beinart, roughly three-quarters of Democrats are convinced that he is a racist who is advancing fascist policies. During the racial and radical strife that consumed the presidential campaign of 1968, Gore Vidal famously won a political argument with William F. Buckley, by simply calling Buckley a crypto-Nazi, a Nazi sympathizer — thereby creating an intellectual foundation for modern liberal discourse. Consequently, the “progressive” argument today, that Mr. Trump and the 60 million Americans who elected him are white supremacists because liberals say they are, is thought to be unassailable. And no doubt following this logic, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded that rampant bigotry now permeates America, and felt compelled to issue a formal "early warning and urgent action procedure," said to be “a rare move often used to signal the potential of a looming civil conflict.”

To avert this second Civil War, the news media and politicians have decided against denouncing the alt-Left. Politicians, that is, except for Trump, who blamed both the alt-Right and the alt-Left for the Charlottesville violence — and has been excoriated himself, by both political parties, ever since. Republicans such as Mitt Romney and Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio have accused him of equating the acts of racists and fascists with the acts of those fighting against racism and fascism. Said Gary Cohn, Trump’s National Economic Council Director, “Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK.” Mr. Cohn went on to urge his administration to “do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.”

That unsuspecting bigot whom you are itching to sneak up behind and cold-cock might be your neighbor, a fellow employee, a relative, perhaps.

Good luck salving up those divisions; the alt-Left exists to create them, the deeper the better. Patrisse Cullors, one of Black Lives Matters’ three cofounders, claims that Mr. Trump is prosecuting a Hitler-like genocide on our communities. Says Ms. Cullors, “Trump is literally the epitome of evil, all the evils of this country, be it racism, capitalism, sexism, homophobia and he has set out the most dangerous policies not just that impacts this country but that impacts the globe.” To Antifa’s Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement, she has barely scratched the surface of America’s unjust, illegitimate landscape. In its recruitment video (which should turn neo-Nazi leaders and their videographers green with envy) we are told that the government “has openly declared war on our communities, threatening to ethnically cleanse Latinos, criminalize Muslims, destroy indigenous land, oppress the LGBTQ community, and continues to murder and oppress black people.”

Although little may seem more virtuous than shameless affirmations of the alt-Left’s moral superiority over the alt-Right, Messrs. Romney, McCain, et al. should give “Burn Down the American Plantation” a read. It might cause them to question, possibly challenge, the Alt-Left crusade. Incidentally, the violence produced by such divisive vitriol began long before Trump’s election, in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.

Democrats, and the media, on the other hand, not only refuse to condemn alt-Left violence; they condone, if not encourage, it; they revel in the division it creates. The alt-Left, they say, does not advocate violence, as does the deplorable alt-Right. Never mind that the alt-Left consciously seeks to stir up violence at every opportunity, and uses “self-defense” as an excuse for its own violence. As such, alt-Left thugs are referred to as counter-protestors and peace activists, sometimes as heroes. For example, former Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon, Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, and CNN anchorman Chris Cuomo all likened the alt-Left counter-protestors at the “Unite the Right” debacle to American soldiers on D-Day, who “confronted the Nazis without a permit.”

The violence produced by such divisive vitriol began long before Trump’s election, in cities such as Ferguson and Baltimore.

They are not heroes. Heroes (92% of them) don’t live with their parents, hide behind disguises, throw public tantrums, sucker-punch unsuspecting victims (even if the victims are authentic fascists), or hurl balloons filled with urine and feces at police. (By the way, I can’t imagine anything that I could hate enough to make me even touch a shit balloon, let alone fill one. And how is it done, with safety to the hurler? I bet that a terrorist, concerned about a weapon going off prematurely, would be more fearful of a shit balloon then an IED.)

And the alt-Left does not exist to fight fascism. Its violence has plagued the nation for years, and its attacks have been focused, not on avowed or even plausible fascists, but on conservatives or libertarians such as Charles Murray, Anne Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Heather Mac Donald, who were invited to speak at liberal colleges and universities; on police, on attenders of Trump rallies, and on ordinary Americans whose only sin was the ownership of homes, vehicles, and businesses in the vicinity of unchecked alt-Left destruction, burning, and looting. Its principal targets have been capitalism, liberty, tolerance, law and order, property rights, peaceful assembly, American history, and, most importantly, free speech. These so-called antifascists did not confront actual fascists until the Charlottesville tragedy — where their “peace activist” behavior was indistinguishable from that of the vicious fascist thugs that they engaged.

For the most part, alt-Right fascism exists only in the paranoid minds of the alt-Left, and in the hysterical talking points of the journalists, social science professors, and politicians who tell us, incessantly, that it is on the rise. If so, where? The Unite the Right rally was the largest white supremacist gathering in over a decade, drawing an estimated 250 to 500 racists from all over the country. One would expect a racist nation to send tens of thousands of hate-filled bigots to such an event.

The alt-Left's principal targets have been capitalism, liberty, tolerance, law and order, property rights, peaceful assembly, American history, and, most importantly, free speech.

“Alt-Right” groups such as the neo-Nazis and the KKK have been despised for decades by the American public; they hold no positions in government, academia, the news media, entertainment, or corporate America; they have no money; they wield no power. According to Anti-Defamation League estimates, there are only “3,000 Klan members and unaffiliated individuals who identify with Klan ideology” in the entire country — probably only half that number, if the ones in old age homes and prisons are deducted.

As Kevin Williamson observed in his article “Gangs of Berkeley,” “the so-called antifa and the white-nationalist clowns are two sides of the same very sad little coin.” The news media, academia, and politicians — crypto-antifascistswho tacitly endorse the alt-Left — would do well to heed the admonition of Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz: “Do not glorify the violent people who are now tearing down the statues. Many of these people, not all of them, many of these people are trying to tear down America. Antifa is a radical, anti-America, anti-free market, communist, socialist, hard left censorial organization that tries to stop speakers on campuses from speaking.”

One week after the Unite the Right rally, a Free Speech rally was held in Boston (aka the Cradle of American Liberty), Massachusetts. The organizers, the Boston Free Speech Coalition, “publicly distanced themselves from the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and others who fomented violence in Charlottesville,” emphatically stating, "We are strictly about free speech . . . [W]e will not be offering our platform to racism or bigotry. We denounce the politics of supremacy and violence." The Boston Police Department, which assigned 500 police officers to the event, requested that counter-protestors not throw urine at them.

The rally drew fewer than 100 free speech advocates. No Nazis and no Klansmen attended. But 40,000 counter-protesters showed up — witless fools, in effect, protesting against free speech, in the cradle of liberty.

Neo-Nazis and the KKK hold no positions in government, academia, the news media, entertainment, or corporate America; they have no money; they wield no power.

Included among the protesters were an estimated 2,000 members from the alt-Left. They attacked the few free speech advocates that they could find, screamed infantile chants; e.g., "Hate speech is not free speech," "Cops and Klan go hand in hand", "Oink oink, bang bang," and “George Soros, where is our Money!” And, of course, they threw urine at the police.

The news media and Boston politicians celebrated. Evidently, the police too were jubilant. Of the 40,000 protesters, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans gushed that they came to Boston "standing tall against hatred and bigotry in our city, and that's a good feeling."

Not so for national unity, peaceful assembly (33 arrests were made), or the First Amendment.

The alt-Right is vile, but powerless. The alt-Left is vile, but, through the tacit endorsement of the cowardly news media, servile academia, and spineless politicians, it has become a significantly destructive force in American culture. As such, it is immensely more worrisome than the alt-Right. I worry about the contaminating effects of the alt-Left’s hatred for America, in general, and free speech, in particular.




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Repeal and Replace the Democratic Party

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In my previous essay, I made a suggestion that would once have been unthinkable. I said that the country would be better off if the Democratic Party were bumped down to minor league status and replaced on the top tier by the Libertarian Party.

Since then, I’ve taken an informal poll of the people in my social sphere. Almost unanimously, the Republicans think it’s a fine idea. I doubt that this comes as any bigger surprise to our readers than it has to me. What would have been surprising to Americans just a few short years ago is that even an overwhelming number of the independents I polled also expressed a desire to see this big shift happen. Independents now outnumber those in either “major” party by a significant margin. Almost nobody who isn’t a Democrat can stand the donkey party anymore. That a huge swath of the population at least hates the GOP less than the Democrats became evident this past November.

I was almost tempted to peek out my window at the night sky to see if the planets were in some weird new alignment.

Even some Democrats can’t stand the Democratic Party. As I was writing my notes for this essay, I was talking on the phone with a very liberal friend who lamented his party’s takeover by the blowhards, crybabies, and troublemakers of the social justice warrior set. He actually spoke favorably of a novella by Ayn Rand. I was almost tempted to peek out my window at the night sky to see if the planets were in some weird new alignment. The political planets are realigning, indeed.

My reasons for hoping that a realignment might happen go beyond simply wanting big-league status for the Libertarians. Though I was a Democrat for most of my adult life, I have since moved considerably to the right. Despite the buffooneries of the GOP, it is the “major” party to which I’m ideologically closer. A rivalry between that party and ours would likely do less harm to the country than the current rivalry between it and the Democrats.

A good friend in our local chapter of the gay organization Outright Libertarians appears to see himself as something of an evangelist to the Left. He toils mightily to persuade his fellow progressives to love liberty. I wish him a lot of luck, but for the sake of my mental health, I had to abandon that mission. I’m afraid it’s a lost cause, because most leftists strike me as impervious to reason. When they lose an argument (and against us, this happens constantly), they tend to be as petulant and abusive as three-year-olds being dragged away from the toy aisle at Target.

A very large part of the reason I left the Left was that I felt it had become a fraud.

What would a big-league rivalry between Libertarians and Republicans look like? Quite contrary to my Outright friend, I would hate to see our party become a standard-bearer for the Left. But I think the dynamics of the American political scene would drastically change. Very likely the entire left-right paradigm would be shaken apart. Instead, the conflict would probably be between liberty and authority.

Would a head-to-head match between Libertarians and Republicans improve the GOP, or bring out the worst in it? I don’t claim to know. It might be taken over by the neocons, theocons, and crony capitalists to a far greater degree than it already has been. Or it could possibly be motivated to lay down the weapon of government force and engage us in the arena of ideas. Most likely it would have the former effect on some and the latter on others.

As far as I have traveled from the statist left, I still care about some of the causes it claims to espouse. I’m a woman, a bisexual, and a member of the working class, so I have a stake in several of those groups’ concerns. A very large part of the reason I left the Left was that I felt it had become a fraud. Progressives used to say that the end justified the means — now they very much appear to see the means as an end in themselves.

The Libertarian Party might change the game. If the game were played by our rules, perhaps the American people would finally win.

They push people around, threaten them, deceive them, steal from them, and try to shut them up for the sake of their supposedly holy causes; and they do these things simply because they can. In fact, they give every indication that doing them is far more important than achieving the objectives for whose sake they’re allegedly being done. To much of the Left, making noise and trouble has become a bigger priority than making sense. The only genuine good they ever did was to persuade people that their causes were right and just. Now, however, they’ve given up on making sense, thereby abandoning nearly all attempts at rational persuasion.

And Democrats bring out the worst in Republicans. As the latter become more like the former, they increasingly see their scheming, lying, self-indulgently emoting identity politicking and moral panicking as necessary. These grievous faults — in which so much of the statist impulse is rooted — are rationalized as merely the rules of the game. The Libertarian Party might change the game. We operate by a completely different set of rules, and if the game were played by our rules, perhaps the American people would finally win.

Conservatives talk as if all that’s needed to save the country is a complete repeal of progressivism. Obamacare — the Left’s prized pet, which has morphed into a monster — certainly should be repealed, and with no replacement. But I believe there are certain crucial tasks conservatives simply cannot perform. Every healthy society must have progressives as well as conservatives, just as every functioning vehicle needs both a gas pedal and a brake. Under the proper conditions, those motivated to advocate what once were considered progressive causes might arise in both parties, and many former independents might very well choose to join them.

Instead of being reduced to political footballs, issues could then be debated on their own merits. Reason might take the place of aggression. Even if the lion can’t be persuaded to lie down with the lamb, perhaps it can be kept from killing it.


Editor's Note: The author is interested in hearing readers' comments, after which she will continue this essay in a second part.



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A Cheap Date

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Politically speaking, libertarians can seem like a cheap date. We’re good enough for a nice time, when a prettier, sexier option is unavailable. But let’s face it, whenever the supermodel or the football hero flashes a flirtatious smile, a lot of our potential partners will desert us.

These days, we’re doing plenty of strategizing. Should we take this course, or that? I’ll switch to the team sports metaphor that works so well in politics. For the most part, the choice appears to come down to the following: do we woo players from Team Red or Team Blue? Our franchise is perpetually struggling to stay competitive, and free agents are again beginning to shop their allegiances around.

Both Left and Right recognize how obnoxious — even downright dangerous — big government can be when people they don’t like have control of it.

The ever-shifting team standings have not altered the opinion I’ve held for the last several years. We need to take as many players as we can from both sides. Their willingness to sign with our franchise depends largely on where their team sits in the rankings. This is tiresome, the situation is silly, and most of them are idiots. But however degrading it is that we need to include them in our considerations at all, thisin no way alters the facts.

To put the matter as simply as possible, when their team is winning, they have little desire to abandon it. But when the other side gains the upper hand, they start getting itchy. They recognize how obnoxious — even downright dangerous — big government can be when people they don’t like have control of it. Even though it strikes them as a dandy idea when they think they might, however indirectly, wield power, as the Left believed it did through Obama, and the Right now anticipates doing through Trump.

Cheap dates can take comfort in one thing. Sometimes those who condescend to date us actually fall in love with us. They may only be looking for a good time at the moment, but once they’re close enough to actually get to know us, our philosophy may take hold. That is obviously the case every time the political pendulum swings from one side to the other, because our numbers are increasing. Perhaps not as rapidly as we’d like, but steadily nonetheless.

Our country is so deeply in the thrall of statist authoritarianism that growth may not happen for the liberty movement in any other way. When we peruse the mainstream media’s coverage of libertarian ideas — and that coverage is always scant, at best — we can plainly see that what there is of it is usually inaccurate, or even slanderous. They started out with Gary Johnson’s 2016 campaign byportraying him as a pothead, and after his unfortunate “Aleppo moment” — so unfortunate that it has apparently become code for “disastrous gaffe” — they used it to define him totally. But the good news, which no mainstream media site is ever going to bring us, is that a fast-growing majority ofthe country no longer trusts them to tell it what to think. The opportunity for libertarians to win new hearts and minds has never been greater.

The segment of the population it makes the most sense for us to woo is the independent middle. This is the category in which the “experts” try to stick libertarians when they don’t know what sense to make of us, or when they simply want to make us disappear. Though nonpartisan “moderates” are stereotyped as ignorant, or as just not caring about politics, there are far too many of them to be so mindlessly dismissed.

Our country is so deeply in the thrall of statist authoritarianism that growth may not happen for the liberty movement in any other way.

When our philosophy is explained to them by people not invested in distorting it, we often find that they are kindred spirits. Libertarianism is a treasure such individuals are happy to discover, because it explains things they’ve never been able to make sense of before. They very well may be better matched with us than those who’ve been weak-minded enough to waste years of their lives as authoritarians in the first place.

I suspect that Donald Trump will turn out to be very nearly as big a tyrant and bully as Hillary Clinton would have been. If we’re counting on keeping all the converts who defected from the political Right during the Obama years, the flash and dash of The Donald will prove irresistible to quite a number, and our hearts will be broken yet again. Over the course of the Trump regime, however long it lasts, many leftists with the sense to be at least temporarily scared by big government will bat their lashes at us and whisper sweet nothings in our ears. Some who originated on the Right will stay with us but others won’t, and we can be pretty sure that our success rate in keeping converts from the Left will be similar.

Our hearts are precious; we should guard them. We need to keep ourselves true to what we’ve come to recognize as truth, come what may — knowing that, after all, we’re worth more than a cheap date, and trusting that the people worthy of our devotion will be the marrying kind.




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Working-Class Libertarianism

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I would like to begin with a personal story about my encounters with what I call liberaltarianism, and then use logic to analyze the experience.

A number of years ago, I had a heated debate with a libertarian in the New York State Libertarian Party discussion group on Facebook. I argued that the public education system is unfair to children from working-class families because they are trapped in failing schools, and that privatizing K-12 education would lead to the development of private schools seeking customers among working class youth, schools that would free them for better career opportunities. My argument was clearly that government is bad for the poor, especially because it destroys opportunities for poor kids. The villain here is the government, and the victims are the poor.

But the person with whom I was debating believed my argument was that public schools are unfair to poor children because the rich can afford private schools and the poor can’t. He believed I was saying that the rich should not be allowed to have private schools, and that the rich are the perpetrators of the problems of poor children; in other words, that the rich are the villains and the poor are their victims. I was never able to make this person understand what my argument actually was, and he did not choose to understand it; so we did not address each other’s arguments, never having been able to agree on what proposition was actually being debated. He came away from the debate calling me a socialist. I replied that socialists do not advocate privatization of primary education; but even in the end, he seemed not to grasp what I was saying.

The villain here is the government, and the victims are the poor.

Now I would like to analyze this anecdotal evidence. I consider myself a libertarian. I am not a socialist. I am not even a liberal, or a leftist, or left of center. Yet when I make arguments in which I argue that capitalism is good for the poor and good for the working class, or equivalent arguments that government control helps the well-connected rich exploit the political system and that libertarianism would be bad for some rich people, I somehow give the impression that I am a socialist. I believe there is a missing concept, the concept of the liberaltarian, that would clear up this confusion. And I believe that logic is the correct tool for understanding this crucial missing concept.

What is a liberaltarian? Thinking back as far as Cato Institute scholar Brink Lindsey’s original efforts to create a liberaltarian movement, I cannot recall a great answer to that question. In respect to definitions, we are in uncharted territory. A liberaltarian is a type of libertarian, so we must first ask the question, what is a libertarian? There is also no one answer to this perplexing question, but let me suggest one: a “libertarian” is “someone who advocates extremely free capitalism.” Along these lines, I would extend the definition to say that a “liberaltarian” is “someone who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor and the working class.”

In math and logic, one often begins with a set of definitions and then uses mathematical or logical deduction to analyze them and see where they lead. Also, in logic, when one encounters an entity that meets all the necessary and sufficient conditions in a definition, one says that the thing meets the definition as a result of logical necessity. Phrased differently, logic says “if P then Q, P, therefore Q,” with P being the necessary and sufficient conditions and Q being the entity that is identified. In other words, if it walks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, it’s a duck. Let’s use that approach here.

I am not a libertarian for the sake of the rich. Most millionaires and billionaires are neither libertarians nor Objectivists.

Logically, we can see that, if these definitions are true, then a liberaltarian is a type of libertarian. A liberaltarian does advocate extreme capitalism, which puts him or her within the area covered by the definition of libertarian. However, on the flip side, we can see that not all libertarians are liberaltarians; some, perhaps most, libertarians will be opposed to liberaltarianism. For example, we could define a “right-wing libertarian” as “a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the rich.” A right-wing libertarian, then, would have a completely different mindset than a liberaltarian, although, according to the logic of my definitions, they are obviously both legitimate varieties of the broader category “libertarian,” since they satisfy the necessary and sufficient condition to meet the definition, namely, they both advocate extremely free capitalism. In this sense, some Tea Partiers and self-described “conservatarians” would be types of libertarians, although libertarians with restrictive views on social issues that may be opposed to the “free” part of “extremely free capitalism.”

Let me clarify that I do not intend to imply that all members of the left really care about the poor, or that no members of the right care about the poor, or that all of them love the rich; I use the terms “left” and “right” here only to define differing attitudes towards the justification for capitalism.

Note something else about the definitions and what they imply. I have not said that a liberaltarian advocates capitalism “because it will be bad for the rich.” Instead, I have only said “because it will be good for the poor and the working class.” Here, I think, is where much of the confusion about liberaltarianism comes from. Are the interests of the poor opposed to the interests of the rich? Logically, one could be a liberaltarian, or a right-wing libertarian, and come out on either side of this debate.

For example, if I said that “I am a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor but won’t generally be bad for the rich and won’t hurt anyone at all, other than those few rich people who unfairly exploit government favors from their politician friends,” I would fit the definitions of both liberaltarian and libertarian. But if I said “I am a libertarian who advocates extremely free capitalism because it will be good for the poor and will actually be very bad for most rich people, who have learned to thrive in our heavily regulated world and usually exploit the state and government funding to milk the taxpaying middle class and to oppress the general public,” I would also fit the definitions of both liberaltarian and (somewhat counterintuitively, but nonetheless logically) libertarian.

Thus, within liberaltarianism, there can be two further subcategories, the liberaltarians who don’t want to hurt anyone and want to help everyone, and the liberaltarians who hate the rich and want laissez faire capitalism in order to tear down privilege and power and hurt the rich. We might call the former pure liberaltarians and call the latter left-libertarians. Similarly, a right-wing libertarian might not want to hurt the poor, or he might favor extreme capitalism because he wants to hurt the poor (and yes, there really are some psychologically crazy people who could be like this).

it is unclear why we would identify with the wealthy, other than for delusions of grandeur.

Let’s do a clearer logical demonstration. Call the advocacy of extremely free capitalism P. Now call a motivating concern for the poor and the working class Q. And then call being OK with the rich A, and a hatred of the rich B. We can say that every libertarian has P, and every liberaltarian has P and Q, by definition. But the libertarian movement in general, and the right-wing libertarians, seem confused about A and B. They believe something that is incorrect as a matter of deductive logic, that a liberaltarian is, by definition, P and Q and B, thereby ruling out A. If this is true, then anyone who cares about the working class must necessarily hate the rich. But as I have shown, there is a logical analysis according to which a liberaltarian is merely P and Q, so that you can add A.

Let me be crystal clear. I do not hate the rich, nor am I opposed to the rich as such. But I am not a libertarian for the sake of the rich. Most millionaires and billionaires are neither libertarians nor Objectivists. Still more obviously, most libertarians and Objectivists are not millionaires or billionaires, and lack the productive moneymaking ability to become such. So it is unclear why we would identify with the wealthy, other than for delusions of grandeur. On the other hand, if we stop focusing on the people who are already rich, and instead focus on the freedom of the poor and the middle class to become rich — in other words, the freedom to make money — then we see precisely what I mean by the interests of the poor being served by capitalism.

According to deductive logic, one can be a liberaltarian and not hate the rich or oppose the interests of the rich (if there is such a thing as “the rich” or “the interests of the rich” in the sense of a cohesive group), so long as one’s primary concern is that capitalism is good for humanity as a whole, and will lift all kinds of people into prosperity. This seems to me a position that is worth not only defining but also adopting.

rdquo; A right-wing libertarian, then, would have a completely different mindset than a liberaltarian, although, according to the logic of my definitions, they are obviously both legitimate varieties of the broader category For example, if I said that




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Die Nasty

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Statist “progressives” are obsessed with wealth and power. I think that back in the ’80s, they must have been sucked into their TV sets, and they’ve been trapped ever since in an endless episode of Dynasty. This must be why they have no idea what the real world is like.

Oliver, a friend of mine who’s about to retire, will need to go on working — just to survive — until he dies. He can’t disclose to the government that he’ll still be earning money, or he’ll lose the Social Security he paid for with money he might otherwise have invested. Without it, he can’t make enough money, at any job that will still have him, while living on Social Security alone would reduce him to poverty. When I complain about this to people with standard-issue leftist views, all they do is rant about the greedy rich and the big corporations — as if Oliver didn’t exist.

On both the Left and the Right, statists seem to get their view of the world from soap operas.

Another friend, Kevin, keeps bees and chickens at the home he shares with his life partner, on a spacious property in a semi-rural area. The city, or county, or whoever hands down such edicts, does not permit him to have enough bees or chickens to make a living selling honey and eggs. So he must return to an office cubicle — to spend the rest of his life working for big corporations and the rich.

How does any of this make sense? I mention my second friend to people who care so much about “the working class”. And I get blank stares and silence. Then they launch into yet another diatribe about “social justice.”

I’m beginning to think that they live on a different planet. A good name for it would be Die Nasty. And that’s definitely the way a whole lot of us are going to die, if “progressives” keep showing us their compassion.

The first requirement of honest politics, it seems to me, is that they apply to real people, here on earth. On both the Left and the Right, statists seem to get their view of the world from soap operas. They ignore those of us who actually exist. Stereotypical, one-dimensional characters are all that interest them.

I’m much more concerned about actual human beings. Oliver would love to spend his golden years camping and fishing, and God knows he’s worked hard enough to earn it. Kevin’s farmette is within a stone’s throw of the zoo. He loves getting up to the crow of the rooster and the roar of the lions, and tending to the living things that flourish in his care. But although the American Dream looks different to each of us, for many it’s been preempted by a nightmare.

Were I to appeal to one of my own favorite fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes, he would quickly collar the culprit. “Tell me, my dear Lori,” I hear him muse, as he puffs on his pipe and plays the violin, “who really benefits from this mad scheme?”

I don’t need Doctor Watson to help me find the answer. It is elementary, indeed. The statist Left is the only sector of our society that gets anything out of the equation. “Splendid!” Holmes would declare. “And there is . . . do you not agree . . . a terrible beauty to it all.”

I suppose there is. Leftists keep making the very problems they purport to solve even worse than ever, thereby assuring that they themselves will keep being needed to save the day. Only day after day goes by, and no matter how many years pass, the problems remain. We keep getting more and more desperate for a solution, and far too many of us continue to call upon our “progressive” heroes to help.

The only people who might hold the statist Left responsible for keeping its promises are those who support it.

Both Oliver and Kevin are diehard progressives. They persist, against all evidence to the contrary, in thinking that their saviors will come through for them. Racial tensions soar into the stratosphere, the battle of the sexes goes thermonuclear, and gay activists snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by attacking religious freedom just as same-sex marriage is gaining ground. Still, the faithful keep faith. If I were to tell my friends that government is making their lives miserable, they would quickly protest that — oh, no! — government is noble, and has We the People’s best interests at heart.

The only people who might hold the statist Left responsible for keeping its promises are those who support it. I have stopped, because I no longer believe in statism at all. I, too, will have to work for the rest of my life, because Obama and Company have robbed me of the chance that I might ever retire. I still believe in progress, but I refuse to accept the silly mummery that claims to promote it as any substitute for the real thing.

Real people need real solutions. It would help if more of us got a clue. Where is Sherlock Holmes when we need him?




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Kennedy and Communism

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On November 22, it will be 50 years since I sat in my typing-for-infants class and heard a radio voice coming over the PA system. “There are reports,” it said, “that shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas, Texas.” My teacher, a model of business efficiency, concluded very plausibly that someone in the principal’s office was playing around with the equipment. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

I can’t say that I regard Kennedy’s death as a world-historical event. He was a brighter and, to me, a much more interesting and sympathetic personality than his kinfolk or most of the other political figures of the time. Several times in his life he faced the virtual certainty of death, and faced it with courage and cheerfulness. He learned enough about economics to advocate a large tax cut that vastly increased the nation’s wealth. He also helped to get us into the Cuban missile crisis — and then rather skillfully got us out of it. I don’t know what he would have done about Vietnam. I do know that he fostered a cult of military masculinity (fifty-mile hikes!) that produced some very sorry thinking and acting. He believed that Robert McNamara was a real smart guy; he had a soft spot for can-do fools like that. The scion of a gangsterlike family, he plotted to make his brother Robert and then his brother Edward presidents after him. He lied habitually and outrageously about almost every aspect of his own life. He accepted the Pulitzer Prize for a book he didn’t write, and became angry when people suggested that he hadn’t written it. There is reason to believe that in 1960 he was able to defeat his good friend Richard Nixon because his allies in Texas and Illinois stuffed the ballot boxes for him. Sadly, the evil part of Kennedy’s legacy was passed along, and amplified; most of the good died with him.

About the assassination I have little to say. To my mind, David Ramsay Steele made a conclusive case for Oswald as the sole assassin; see his article in Liberty in November 2003. Since then, no evidence has been discovered that threatens Steele’s argument, and much analysis has confirmed it. I am bothered, however, by something closely connected with the assassination (but not with Kennedy himself), something that appears not to bother anyone else. It is a strange idea: the idea that communism was never of any significance in America; that either there weren’t any communists or they never really did much of anything (such as killing President Kennedy). Even intelligent and well-disposed people believe this.

Sadly, the evil part of Kennedy’s legacy was passed along, and amplified; most of the good died with him.

But of course there were communists, and they did lots of things. They were very busy bees. It’s not for nothing that the 1930s were once called the Red Decade in American intellectual life, or that a ton of intellectual autobiographies were written from the standpoint of “I was a communist although later I quit.” About communist influence in the popular media during the 1930s and 1940s, take a look at Red Star Over Hollywood by Ronald and Allis Radosh — and even the Radoshes couldn’t get all the red influences into a book. In 1948, the Democratic Party was split by a conflict between anticommunists, communists, and communist stooges; out of it came the Progressive Party, an outfit managed by communists and their friends. Its presidential candidate was the former vice president of the United States, Henry Wallace. In 1956, there were still American intellectuals fighting it out over the issue of whether Khrushchev should have trashed the memory of Stalin.

How does all this connect with Kennedy? The connection is that the person who shot him, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a communist activist. Oswald defected to the Soviet Union and upon returning to the United States became a professional defender of Castro. He denied being “a communist” but proclaimed himself “a Marxist.” He had his picture taken holding a gun in one hand and militant literature in another; his wife wrote “Hunter of fascists” on the back of it. Oswald lay in wait for and attempted to murder Edwin Walker, a rightwing general. When the fervently anticommunist President Kennedy came to Dallas, Oswald succeeded in murdering him. Now, why do you think he did that? Do you think that communism might not have had something to do with it?

According to most conspiracy theories, however, Oswald either didn’t shoot Kennedy at all, or he was the least important member of a murder group that had nothing to do with communism. The theorists believe that Kennedy was murdered by rightwing CIA operatives, or rightwing oil companies, or rightwing militarists — anyone on the right will do. Even sensible people have trouble with the simple notion that Oswald was a freak for communism. Consider Fred Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post on November 14. Kaplan says that he himself, in his callow youth, accepted various conspiracy theories, only to discover that they weren’t decently based on fact. (I can say something similar about my own intellectual development.) But then he says:

The only remaining mystery, really, is Oswald’s motives — and yet, here too, no convincing evidence has emerged that links his action to the Mafia, the CIA, the Cubans, or anything of the sort. The most persuasive theory I’ve read — first put forth in a New York Review of Books article by Daniel Schorr (later reprinted in his book Clearing the Air) — is that Oswald killed Kennedy, believing the deed would earn him favor with Castro. But who knows? The mystery at the heart of the matter (why did Oswald do it?) remains unsolved.

“Really”? Do people talk this way about Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President McKinley because Czolgosz was an anarchist and McKinley wasn’t? Do people talk this way about Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President Garfield because Garfield failed to gratify Guiteau’s insane idea that he deserved to be appointed ambassador to France? Do people talk this way about John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Lincoln because Wilkes was a supporter of the Confederacy and Lincoln had just destroyed it? Do people talk this way about . . . oh, why go on? If a member of the American Nazi Party, or the NRA, or even the PTA had killed John F. Kennedy, there would be no “unsolved mystery.”

The real mystery is why even well-meaning, well-educated Americans can’t just accept communism for what it was (and is): a political movement capable of interesting people and inspiring them, even inspiring them to violent action — which it has often praised and rewarded. Oswald killed Kennedy because Oswald was a communist, and acted up to it.

So silly is the cover-up-the-communists routine that the hosts of movies on my beloved Turner Classics are always alleging that someone was “blacklisted” or otherwise injured by “accusations” of communism, without ever wondering — just as a subject of curiosity, now that we’re discussing old so-and-so’s difficult life — whether he or she may actually have been a communist.

And speaking of cultural authorities, I recently (don’t ask me why) looked up the Wikipedia article on Ed Sullivan, the prune-faced impresario of early television song-and-dance shows, and discovered that its account of Sullivan’s life occupies itself mightily with the question of whether Sullivan excluded communists from his program. I have to admit that I am an agnostic on this grave moral issue. If I were Ed Sullivan, maybe I’d have had communists on my show, and maybe I wouldn’t have. I probably would have, if they were good enough dancers — but if you substitute “Nazis” for “communists” in this thought experiment, fewer people would say that my decision should be obvious. But look at what the Wikipedia entry says: “[A] guest who never appeared on the show because of the controversy surrounding him was legendary black singer-actor Paul Robeson, who . . . was undergoing his own troubles with the US entertainment industry's hunt for Communist sympathizers.”

If a member of the American Nazi Party, or the NRA, or even the PTA had killed John F. Kennedy, there would be no “unsolved mystery.”

All right; I guess so. But Robeson didn’t need to be “hunted”; everybody knew where he was on the ideological spectrum. And his politics ensured that he had other troubles, of the intellectual and moral kind, troubles far worse than not getting on the Ed Sullivan show. The facts are simple. Robeson had a great voice. He could even act. He was also America’s best-known communist. He was proud of this morally repellent role. Accepting the Stalin Peace Prize in 1953, he said, among many other things:

I have always insisted — and will insist, even more in the future on my right to tell the truth as I know it about the Soviet peoples: of their deep desires and hopes for peace, of their peaceful pursuits of reconstruction from the ravages of war, as in historic Stalingrad; and to tell of the heroic efforts of the friendly peoples in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, great, new China and North Korea — to explain, to answer the endless falsehoods of the warmongering press with clarity and courage.

For Robeson’s tribute to the “deep kindliness and wisdom” of Joseph Stalin, go here.

Wikipedia’s own page on the “Political Views of Paul Robeson” does its best for him, but it concludes, “At no time during his retirement (or his life) is Paul Robeson on record of mentioning any unhappiness or regrets about his beliefs in socialism or the Soviet Union nor did he ever express any disappointment in its leaders including Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Moreover, only a few sources out of hundreds interviewed and researched by two of his biographers Martin Duberman and Lloyd Brown agreed with the claims made in the mainstream media of Robeson's supposed embitterment over the USSR.”

Why bring these things up? Mainly because there’s a significant historical question at stake: were there communists or not, and were they important or not? That’s enough, but there are political reasons too. The abolition of communism from American history has been a way of arousing sympathy for the authoritarian Left and any ideas or people associated with it. It has been a way of keeping the Left from self-criticism, the kind of criticism that, one is given to believe, would automatically lead to such excesses as “witch-hunts” against “alleged communists.” Denying the presence of communism has been a way of obeying the old slogan, “No Enemies on the Left.” There is a danger here, similar to the danger of forgetting the sometime appeal of fascism.

This month witnessed another anniversary besides that of the Kennedy assassination. Thirty-five years ago, on Nov. 18, 1978, a man named Jim Jones engineered the murder-suicide of more than 900 people, mostly Americans, at Jonestown, Guyana. People think of Jones as some kind of offbeat Christian who got a little more offbeat. What he did is regarded as a warning against religious cultism. But he wasn’t, and it isn’t. Jones was a political agitator who used a pretense of religion — and it was a pretty feeble pretense — to sell what he called “revolutionary communism.” This approach enabled him to become a major player in San Francisco politics. Some of his fellow politicians covered up for him, ignoring or denying his communism; others were actually inspired by him — by his politics, not by his “religion.”

If you go to yet another Wikipedia page — “Peoples Temple” — you will learn a lot of things about this, although you won’t learn why the Jonestown episode isn’t seen as Americans’ most impressive and also most disastrous attempt to build a communist utopia. Yet the take-home message can still be found. It appears in the clichéd slogan that was posted behind the speaker’s stand from which Jones delivered his death decrees: “Those Who Do Not Remember the Past Are Condemned to Repeat It.”




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Reclaiming the Word “Liberal”

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I propose that we call left-liberals just that, not “liberals” without qualification. Doing so would help reclaim the original name of an honorable old political tradition. It would resist the purloining and perversion of the word “liberal” as used in the United States. It would avoid ambiguity by bringing American usage into line with usage in much or most of the world outside the United States, where the word “liberal” retains its classical meaning, as I shall try to show. Left-liberals contrast sharply with classical liberals; they incline to interventionist and redistributionary policies extending into ever more aspects of life.

John Kekes’ Against Liberalism (1997), although a generally meritorious work, illustrates the ambiguous use of words. From a self-styled conservative, I expected an attack on his doctrine’s classical rival. But no: Kekes muddles classical and left-liberalism together, making his attack less incisive than it might have been.

Beyond inviting misunderstanding, controversialists put themselves at a disadvantage when they let their opponents define the terms of debate. When classical liberals and conservatives let “liberal” be purloined and even use it themselves (as a term of abuse), they concede too much to their opponents.

Words and Policy

The word “liberal” derives from the Latin for “free.” Classical liberals do not all share the same detailed understanding of their values; but to minimize repetition in what follows, it is convenient to list typical characteristics. Classical liberals typically believe in the importance of individual responsibility; in the freedom to live one’s own life, to travel, to change residence, and to choose one’s own occupation; in freedom of speech and press; in tolerance of the opinions and lifestyles of dissenting minorities; in capitalist enterprise with secure property rights and free markets for domestic and international trade; in freely and honestly elected representative government of defined and limited powers that protects human rights; in the rule of law, equality before the law, independent administration of law and justice, and separation of church and state.

Left-liberals share many of these values, of course; the chief difference concerns the character and scope of government, which affect the degree of respect that left-liberals have for others among those values.

Liberalism, if not yet so called, became a powerful force in the Age of Enlightenment. It rejected hereditary status, the divine right of kings, absolute monarchy, and established religoin. Leaders of the American and French Revolutions used liberal philosophy, including insistence on consent of the governed, to justify overthrowing tyrannical rule. The 19th century brought more or less liberal governments to countries in Europe and the Americas.

When classical liberals and conservatives let “liberal” be purloined and even use it themselves (as a term of abuse), they concede too much to their opponents.

An early political use of the term “liberal” dates from the Cortes of Cádiz, which adopted the Spanish constitution of 1812. There the conservatives derided their majority opponents as “liberals.” The liberals wanted to carry on the Enlightenment philosophy of Charles III, adding several ideals of the French Revolution. They fought for civil liberties and against absolute monarchy. Even though the constitution of 1812 remained in effect only for brief intervals, it served as a model for liberal constitutions of Latin countries in the nineteenth century. (These facts are found partly by Googling for “liberals” and “liberals Cadiz” and in the Wikipedia entry on “Constitución española de 1812." Club Liberal Español is also useful.)

Elsewhere also, and perhaps especially in Great Britain and its colonies, liberal aspirations included removing various restraints on residence, occupation or employment, and property ownership; increasing the flexibility of land inheritance; modernizing onerous old legal structures and practices; removing various legal discriminations; extending the franchise and (in Britain) remedying the over-representation of rotten boroughs in Parliament. Workers eventually gained the right to form unions.

How, then, did the word “liberal” acquire its changed meaning? Well, the early liberals worked for freedom from burdensome and oppressive old laws and regulations. Liberalism meant action. The ideal of change toward increased freedom and modernity drifted into accepting change almost for its own sake — or so I conjecture. Many conditions in the world plausibly seemed open to improvement — even in the liberal direction — by changing or adding some laws and regulations.

The case for a typical one of these interventions, taken by itself, may indeed be strong; yet a great accumulation of individually plausible interventions may become oppressive and make the task of monitoring government all the more difficult. Overlooking this point commits the fallacy of composition, the fallacy of supposing that what is true of the individual case is therefore true of such cases taken together. (The standard example compares one spectator standing up to see a parade better, and all standing up to see the parade.)

Even so, advocates of each particular intervention tend to focus on it, not perceiving or worrying about the fallacy. Some interventions may have unintended side effects that seem to require still others as correctives (as Ludwig von Mises explained). Ongoing growth of government activity motivates special interests to seek more interventions on their own behalf or in self-defense against privileges given to others. The political expediency of a “moderate,” middle-of-the-road position — the Hotelling effect, so called following Harold Hotelling’s article in the Economic Journal (1929) — allows the more active side of the road to drag along what is considered the respectable middle, thus reinforcing the drift. Many or most participants in an interventionist drift may well be high-minded people; but the drift does offer opportunities to control freaks, who may relish the prospect of power for their own purposes in a semi-socialist state.

The original term “liberal” persists, in the United States, anyway, even for an orientation that has metamorphosed into almost its opposite. The process illustrates the Hegel-Marx notion of a change of quantity into quality, of degree into kind (as rising temperature changes ice into fluid water and then into steam). An itch to change things has taken hold, with politicians and special interests constantly imagining what further government interventions into what further aspects of life might do some good.

Participants in the Drift of Meaning

John Stuart Mill illustrates a stage in the slide toward left-liberalism. Mill was a genuine classical liberal, concerned with removing interferences with individual freedom. He was an early feminist, urging that women should have fully as much control as men over their own persons and property. His On Liberty is a classic defense of the individual’s right to act as he wishes, even mistakenly, provided only that he does not infringe on the rights of others. He championed freedom of speech and controversy and freedom even from pressures to conform to general opinion; he valued eccentricity. On Liberty urged the benefits of private enterprise and the spirit of innovation.

In the last chapter of his Principles of Political Economy, a chapter entitled “Of the Grounds and Limits of the Laisser-faire or Non-Interference Principle,” Mill reviews the various arguments against extending the scope of government. Still, he considers how government intervention might enhance freedom. He distinguishes between two types. One is “authoritative interference” — requiring or forbidding private actions. A second type, alternative to commands and penalties, includes giving information and advice. But the scope for intervention, as imagined by Mill, is much wider.

Liberalism meant action. The ideal of change toward increased freedom and modernity drifted into accepting change almost for its own sake.

Mill wants to free individuals from finding their future selves bound by very long-term contracts. He would accept intervention when the consumer has inadequate knowledge of the market or is unable to judge the desirability or quality of some good or service, education perhaps being an example. Intervention might be justified when some persons exercise power over others, as over children and animals. The government might intervene to remedy defects of delegated decisions or management, as by giving shareholders more power over the companies they own. Intervention might help give effect to the desires of the persons concerned, as when, for example, workers might want shorter hours but could hardly demand them individually rather than collectively. Mill sees a case for public alongside private charity. Government might properly regulate or own such natural monopolies as gas and water. It might pursue any object of general interest in default of private action — roads, docks, harbors, canals, irrigation, hospitals, schools and colleges, a national bank, a manufactory, a postal service, an established church. (He even mentions printing presses!) Private alternatives would not be banned; private and public education might exist alongside each other. Government should regulate the colonization of new lands (e.g., Australia). In general, government might undertake any beneficial activities that private agencies would find unprofitable; it could support what are now called positive externalities. Mill’s example was voyages of geographical or scientific exploration; nowadays we might think of the space program.

Earlier in his Principles (Book II, Chapter I), Mill expressed some interest in and even sympathy for socialism in some sense or other. The decision between it and the present system of private property “will probably depend mainly on one consideration, viz. which of the two systems is consistent with the greatest amount of human liberty and spontaneity” (Ashley edition, 1929, p. 210). “It is for experience to determine how far or how soon any one or more of the possible systems of community property will be fitted to substitute itself for the ‘organization of industry’ based on private ownership of land and capital. . . . [However,] the object to be principally aimed at, in the present stage of human improvement, is not the subversion of the system of individual property, but the improvement of it, and the full participation of every member of the community in its benefits” (pp. 216–217). Thus, even Mill’s interest in (though not commitment to) socialism reflected his concern for individuality and personal freedom and opportunity.

I get the impression from his Principles that Mill’s acceptance of intervention and his interest in socialism were rather reluctant. He wanted to serve and enhance the autonomy and effectiveness of the individual; personal freedom was his touchstone, but he thought that wise government guidance could enhance it. He wanted to give a fair shake to doctrines or practices that he himself may have contemplated only reluctantly or tentatively.

Like Mill, Thomas Hill Green (1836–1882) exemplifies the drift (especially in his lecture on “Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract”; see also the Wikipedia entries on Green and on “Social Liberalism”). He was a philosopher, adherent of the Liberal Party, political radical, temperance campaigner, and prominent figure among those, also including L.T. Hobhouse and John A. Hobson, who became known as the New Liberals. These men used the classical language of liberalism in support of state intervention in economic, social, and cultural life. Green favored factory legislation for safety and health, restrictions on child and women’s labor, public schools, reform of inheritance of land, protection of tenant farmers against arbitrary landlords, and restrictions on the sale of alcohol. He defended such interventions against the objection that they impair freedom of contract.

In distinguishing between negative freedom and positive freedom, Green made a now notorious play on words. He called the latter “true freedom,” charitably interpreted to mean individuals’ efficacy in pursuing their own interests and in political participation. Sir Isaiah Berlin made the same distinction in his “Two Concepts of Liberty” (1958), but he did so to warn against the equivocation involved.

Even Mill’s interest in (though not commitment to) socialism reflected his concern for individuality and personal freedom and opportunity.

John Maynard Keynes, member of the Liberal Party in Britain, was arguably a figure in the leftward drift. At least two schools of interpretation of his General Theory demonstrate the ambiguity of his position. One school stresses his evident appreciation of private property and a market economy; he had no particular quarrel with how the price system allocates resources. Writing during the Great Depression of the 1930s, however, he did worry about a persistent tendency toward lack of enough total demand to maintain prosperity with full employment. That defect could be remedied rather straightforwardly by monetary policy and especially by government fiscal policy, both without detailed control over the allocation of labor and other resources. On this interpretation, Keynes remained basically a classical liberal. The rival interpretation sees him as a meddlesome interventionist, or worse. It takes literally some of his stray remarks, such as his comment about the “socialization of investment,” as if he meant more than policy to stimulate enough investment to absorb otherwise excess saving — as if he did envision widespread government ownership of the means of production — in a word, socialism. Actually, he did not go that far.

The Oxford Liberal Manifesto of 1947/1948, written by Salvador de Madariaga and adopted by delegates from 19 countries, also illustrates how classical liberalism became stretched. Unsurprisingly, it urges protecting the standard freedoms and enhancing the several components of political liberty. But it goes further. Its concern for the freedom and wellbeing of persons extends to education; security from the hazards of sickness, unemployment, disability, and old age; and continuous betterment of conditions of employment and housing. Economic freedom must be protected from monopolies and cartels. “The welfare of the community must prevail and must be safeguarded from the abuse of power by sectional interests” (Wikipedia entry and text of the Manifesto).

So the Manifesto almost welcomes myriad detailed interventions. It allows politicians opportunities to perceive or invent ills that their legislation and regulation might remedy. In H.L. Mencken’s much quoted exaggeration, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” As if to illustrate Mencken’s point, a recent call-in session on C-SPAN recognizes appropriate federal government concern about . . . bedbugs.

The word “liberal” in the sense of left-liberal is (or was until quite recently) accepted gladly, and even as a self-congratulatory term, by American adherents of that political persuasion; and most do so use it still. However, many conservative politicians and commentators, such as Rush Limbaugh, have come to use it as a pejorative. Thus even conservatives join in perverting the unmodified word to mean incessant leftward change.

International Usage

This drift toward perverting the word has not occurred, however, in all writings and all countries. In some English-speaking countries outside the United States (Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom), usage of the term “liberal” seems to be complicated by their having thus-named Liberal (or Liberal Democratic) political parties. But in the UK, anyway, the classical usage still seems to prevail. The London Economist does routinely and unambiguously so use the word. For example, its issue of 16–22 October 2010 hails Mario Vargas Llosa, winnner of the Nobel Prize for literature, as “A Latin American Liberal”: “His liberalism is universal, inspired by such thinkers as Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin.” In most other countries and languages, also, “liberal” means classical advocacy of a free-market economy; personal rights, liberties, and responsibilities; equality before the law; and a democratic element in limited government.

Liberal policies could plausibly drift into left-liberal interventionism, as I have argued, without any sharp break point bringing a change in terminology. But why did the change of meaning occur mainly in the United States while “liberal” retains its classical meaning in so many foreign countries? Well, in some developing countries where free markets and democratic politics have not yet fully emerged, classical free-market liberalism may still be only an aspiration of an intellectual minority and not yet an actuality subject to being democratically corrupted by organized interests; the process described by Mancur Olsen in his Rise and Decline of Nations (1982) has not yet taken hold. But this mere conjecture leaves unsolved the puzzle of why “liberal” or “liberalism” does indeed retain its classical meaning in many countries outside the United States.

As if to illustrate Mencken’s point, a recent call-in session on C-SPAN recognizes appropriate federal government concern about bedbugs.

But it does. Evidence follows. The Atlas Foundation, founded by Sir Antony Fisher and now headquartered in the United States, is an umbrella organization for classical-liberal programs and thinktanks around the world. Atlas lists many dozens of them that it supports or that cooperate with it. I tried to find all of these web sites (and also found a few others). Unsurprisingly, most by far of the American thinktanks use “liberal” or “liberalism,” if at all, in the American leftist sense. In other countries, also, by no means do all or even most of the free-market thin tanks explicitly label themselves “liberal” either by their names or in their homepage self-descriptions. That is understandable. They may not want to risk frightening away potential supporters by one explicit label. They do, however, express sympathy with the tenets of classical liberalism, which they review.

Yet some do explicitly name themselves. Examples include Club Liberal (Spain), Unión Liberal Cubana (located in Spain), Instituto Liberal (Brazil), Instytut Liberalno-Konserwtywny (Poland), Liberaljnaja Missija (Russia), Association for Liberal Thinking (Turkey), Center for Liberal-Democratic Studies (Serbia), Centre for Liberal Strategies (Bulgaria), Liberal Group (India), Liberal Network Europe (Bulgaria), Liberales Institut (Switzerland), Libertarni Klub (Slovenia), Eurolibnetwork (France), Liberal Youth Forum (India), and Red [Network] Liberal de América Latina (16 countries).

Tanks describing though not actually naming themselves as liberal include Free Market Center (Serbia), Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa (South Africa), Fundación para el Análisis y los Estudios Sociales (Spain), Institut Constant de Rebecque (Switzerland), Institut Turgot (France), Institute for Development and Social Initiatives “Viitorul” (Moldova), Institute for Economic Studies Europe (France), Instituto de Ciencia Política (Colombia), Instituto de Estudos Empresariais (Brazil), Instituto Liberdade (Brazil, formerly named Instituto Liberal do Rio Grande do Sul), Istituto Acton (Italy), Istituto Bruno Leoni (Italy), Liberté Chérie (France), Mont Pelerin Society (international), Prague Security Studies Institute (Czech Republic), Center for Political Studies (Denmark), Centre for Independent Studies (Australia). The Centre for Civil Society (India) straightforwardly calls itself “liberal,” as in announcing a “Colloquium on the Indian Liberal Tradition” and issuing invitations to the 2011 regional meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society, whose theme would be “India as a Global Power: Practicing Liberal Values at Home and Abroad.”

In addition, many of the tanks not explicitly so naming their philosophy do present articles or other content using the word “liberal” (or “liberalism”) in the classical sense. Examples include Andes Libres Asociación Civil (Peru), Center for Free Enterprise (Korea), Center for Institutional Development (Romania), Centro de Investigación y Estudios Legales (Peru), Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (Argentina), Education Forum (New Zealand), Eudoxa AB (Sweden), F.A. Hayek Foundation (Slovakia), Free Market Center (Serbia), Fundación Pensar (Argentina), Imani Center for Policy and Education (Ghana), Instituto de Libre Empresa (Peru), Free Market Center (Serbia and Montenegro).

Why did the change of meaning occur mainly in the United States while “liberal” retains its classical meaning in so many foreign countries?

Many institutions indicate their orientation by naming themselves after classical liberals. A list, partially overlapping the preceding ones, includes: John Locke Foundation (US), Locke Institute (US), James Madison Institute (US) Henry Hazlitt Foundation (US, now dissolved), Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (US), Bastiat Institute (US), Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation (US), Istituto Bruno Leoni (Italy), Adam Smith Institute (UK), Adam Smith Society (Italy), Adam Smith Centre (Poland), David Hume Institute (UK), Institut Turgot (France), Institut Constant de Rebecque (Switzerland), Fundación José Ortega y Gasset (Spain), many named after F.A. Hayek (Austria, Slovakia, Russia, Germany, Canada), and many named after Ludwig von Mises (US, Belarus, Belgium, Mexico, Argentina, Russia, Brazil, Romania, El Salvador, Czech Republic, Slovakia).

Conclusion

It is understandable how change in the liberalizing direction might have gained momentum and drifted into change valued almost as itself. But where should an originally admirable drift stop? It is odd that continual change through legislation and bureaucratic regulation, however democratically adopted, should be made a philosophical ideal. Political philosophy might better present a stable vision of the good society, one in which individuals can successfully pursue their own goals in life in peaceful and productive cooperation with others through trade and otherwise.

A stable society does not mean stagnation. A stable political framework does not obstruct — it fosters — an environment of progress in science, technology, and culture, a rising standard of living, and a widening of people’s opportunities.

Reclaiming the word “liberal” in its classical and international sense will help clarify discussion of such issues. Instead of outright and confusingly reversing how the word “liberal” is commonly used in the United States, qualifying it as “left” serves clarity.“Left” is not an abusive term employed instead of argument; it describes but does not in itself evaluate. Conceivably left-liberals are correct about the issues that concern them. Furthermore, they typically regard being politically somewhat to the left of center as the moral, humane, compassionate, and progressive position. In the many parliaments where the seating pattern distinguishes between left and right, delegates seated on the left are not ashamed of sitting there.

Two alternatives to the terminological rescue that I suggest come to mind. The left-liberals might be renamed “progressives.” Some of them call themselves that already; and some conservatives, such as Glenn Beck, even use “progressive” as a term of abuse. However, the word already names a specific policy stance in early 20th-century America. Furthermore, it concedes an undeserved terminological advantage to the “progressives,” as if they were for progress and their opponents were against it.

Or classical liberals might give up, concede the unqualified term “liberal” to their opponents, and call themselves “libertarians.” But one might plausibly distinguish between libertarians and classical liberals. I sometimes say, only half in jest, that libertarianism is classical liberalism for children, while classical liberalism is libertarianism for adults.

Most briefly, explicitly distinguishing between left and classical liberalism will promote clarity in discussion, particularly when international usage is taken into account.




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Rousing the Rubes

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Sarah Palin interested me during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, for two reasons.

First, she occasionally seemed to embody the “West coast” style of libertarian political philosophy, based more on practical life experience than on academic training.

Second, her flashes of libertarianism seemed in tension with her claims of evangelical religious faith.

Either of these matters could have made her a compelling public figure. I hoped that she’d bring the first into mainstream political consciousness and offer some resolution to the second. But things didn’t work out that way. Quickly, Palin’s public figure had more to do with persona than philosophy.

Then, in fairly short order, her ticket came in second in the presidential election, she resigned as governor of Alaska halfway through her first term, and she signed a contract with the Fox News Channel to appear regularly as a commentator. She also released two books and starred in a short-lived “reality” television show.

In the coming presidential election cycle, I expect that Jon Huntsman — who’s recently resigned his position as U.S. Ambassador to China and taken the initial steps toward candidacy — will be the person who might raise the issues I’d hoped that Palin would.

Meanwhile, Palin remains on the scene. Her cult of personality is still strong. And her cult of animosity may be even stronger.

I’m not the first to note how closely she resembles the character Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell’s 1984 — in respect to oppositional politics, if not to intellectual power. Establishment Left groups use her name or image to incite passionate response in readers, donors, and other constituents. We’d need someone like Freud to explain the reasons why Palin resonates so strongly with the Left. But there’s little doubt that she’s marketing gold — a lip-rouged bogeyman who drives clicks to leftwing websites and sells magazines and books.

There we might leave the discussion. And yet . . . the intensity of Palin-hate that small minds on the Left feel is worth considering in some detail. It’s instructive of the state of political discourse.

In late January, the New York Times ran an opinion column by one if its lesser agitators. The piece was highly critical of Rep. Michele Bachmann, who’d recently delivered a semi-official Tea Party response to the president’s state of the union speech. The agitator mocked Bachmann’s manners and makeup but, more than anything else, she presented Bachmann and Palin (by ham-fisted logic since, to that point, Palin had said little publicly about Obama’s speech) for Two Minutes of Hate.

There’s little doubt that Palin is marketing gold — a lip-rouged bogeyman who drives clicks to leftwing websites and sells magazines and books.

And hate the Times readers did. It’s easy to ignore, or forget, how childish and emotional some Americans are about politics. The internet is great for illuminating things like this. Here are some excerpts from the scores of comments that appeared afterward on the newspaper’s website.

“Michelle Bachmann is as ridiculous a political figure as Sarah Palin. The question, however, is why we are covering either one of them. Both Palin and Bachmann know virtually nothing about the important political issues facing our nation, are not qualified to serve in any sort of high level political office, and do little more than degrade the level of political discourse in our nation.”

“The GOP is ignorant about history. The GOP is ignorant about Europe (Paul Krugman’s piece yesterday). The GOP combines that ignorance with an agenda to misinform the public in such a way that voters, against their own economic interests, support policies that benefit a wealthy elite that is getting richer by the day. . . . If only Obama had been the people’s leader we thought we were getting.”

“When I think of Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin I always think of mud wrestling. Even Michelle’s description of the lovely outfit she was wearing years ago . . . doesn’t dislodge the frame by frame fixation I have of her and the former half-governor from Alaska in a mud pit, pulling each other’s hair, calling each other names, slipping and sliding in the sticky brown goo.”

Such keen insights are hard to top, but here are two more:

“I just don’t get it as to why do so many people respond favorably to people like Palin and Bachmann? And add to them Glen [sic] Beck and Limbaugh fueling their fire along with others trailing in their wake like Ryan and Boehner. They mock and are sarcastic with religious fervor. To me they are so off the wall and ridiculous that whatever they say is total nonsense. . . . I tremble. I want a brainy President like Obama and brainy people around him.”

She serves as a scapegoat, in the original sense of that term: she carries off the failings that her haters fear in themselves.

“Bachman and Palin are the bullies in the kindergarden [sic] of Republican politics and no other kid in their class will stand up to them. Could their behavior be a portent of the approaching death of the party of the rich old white well educated ruling elite and the emergence of a new party of servants of the rich — probably labeled the New Stupids, but just as much in the pockets of the monied [sic] class . . .”

Bear in mind that all of this was posted, in a public forum, just a few weeks after the “brainy” Barack Obama had called for more civilized rhetoric in the nation’s political debate.

I’m no Freud, but even I can see the psychological themes in the Palin-hate. It’s projection. And she serves as a scapegoat, in the original sense of that term: she carries off the failings that her haters fear in themselves. Ignorant, ridiculous, stupid, bullying, mocking, sarcastic, a stupid servant of others, of elite political forces,and . . . ridiculous. Clearly, her haters don’t feel very good about themselves.

And they worry — a lot — that they’re ridiculous.

Perhaps with good reason. “JF” from Wisconsin believes that the GOP’s wide-ranging ignorance empowers it to bamboozle the nation’s voters. And consider the political order, as interpreted by “Annie” from Rhode Island: in her view, three pundits and a junior congresswoman dictate the political agenda to the Speaker of the House. And there are thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of these mail-order Aristotles out there — all desperate to show that they are so very much smarter than Sarah Palin.

I have no idea whether Palin will run for president in 2012 — though I doubt she will go very far if she does. But I’m glad she’s still on the scene. The response she evokes in the rubes is rich.




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