Every Knee Shall Bend

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When I was younger, I was a sports nut. We had season tickets to the Phoenix Suns’ games from their second season in existence, 1969–70, until I was well into my 20s. I went to the very first regular season game the Suns ever played. All I remember about that night was that the other team had green uniforms and that the pages of the program smelled funny. At six, I didn’t pay much attention to the action on the court.

As I advanced through grade school, I came to love the game. We even showed up, when the home court was in the old Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, while the state fair was going on and the whole place reeked of cow manure. The closest the Suns ever came to a title, in those early years, was in 1976, and I’m still inclined to think that the Celtics robbed us. It’s a vague feeling, probably not backed up by the facts, but fans in Western cities tended to feel that we weren’t getting a fair deal. The East Coast-based powers-that-be in the league and the media didn’t take us seriously, and treated our team as if it had broken some sort of a sacred rule by having dared to advance that far in the playoffs.

My childhood hero was Suns’ star forward-guard Dick Van Arsdale. He’s a gentleman through and through, and has always been gracious to his fans. I have about 50 of his autographs, and at least half a dozen of his identical twin brother, Tom, who played alongside him on the team in their final year as pros. In ’76, 13-year-old me wrote Dick a letter inviting him to our house for a postseason dinner. He actually took the time to send me a handwritten response (with all those autographs in my collection, I knew no secretary had penned it), thanking me for my kind offer but saying that his family was headed out of town for some much needed rest.

We even showed up, when the home court was in the old Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum, while the state fair was going on and the whole place reeked of cow manure.

The Suns’ sister franchise, the Phoenix Mercury, captivated my attention from Day One of the WNBA. And my all-time highlight as a sports fan will always be the Arizona Diamondbacks’ World Series victory over the mighty New York Yankees in the turbulent wake of 9/11. I still follow the fortunes of the baseball and basketball teams of my college alma mater, Grand Canyon University. But over the years, my enthusiasm for professional sports has waned considerably. It has turned, of late, into a hearty dislike.

I’m certainly not a knee-jerk hater of sports in general, as I believe my history makes clear. But I find it increasingly difficult to overlook the fact that there are always any number of teams complaining that their arenas or stadia are out-of-date and attempting to extort the taxpayers into building them new ones. And few of the players, these days, have the humility or grace of a Dick Van Arsdale, a Luis Gonzalez, or a Michele Timms. Far too many behave like spoiled brats, and some are downright criminal. Moreover, a growing number expect us not only to be interested in their political opinions, but to pay them ever higher salaries and lionize them as heroes for having aired them.

Take the current controversy over former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Yes — and do take it, please. For those who’ve been hiding under a rock on the dark side of the moon, last season he refused to stand for the national anthem before some games, choosing to kneel instead. He was protesting something having to do with slavery, police brutality, racism, or oppression in general — take your pick of which. In any case, the young man was grievously aggrieved, and the whole world was expected to care.

It's increasingly difficult to overlook the fact that there are always any number of teams attempting to extort taxpayers into building them new arenas.

He showed up at a press conference, supposedly to explain himself, in a Fidel Castro t-shirt and socks that mocked police officers as pigs. It was immediately apparent that we were supposed to care not only about the causes he espoused, but about him. Perhaps the reason it’s so difficult to figure out exactly what he’s been trying to say is that the message that drowns out any other has consistently been “Look at me!” Celebrities with high-profile opinions tend to have that effect on the public. Few of us remember what it is they want to tell us, because what we seem to be especially expected to notice is that they are saying it.

I think I’ve written somewhere before — maybe here — that professional sports are training Americans to be morons. In my own opinion, that is by far the worst strike against them. It isn’t only that the stars of the game try to manipulate us into supporting the causes and candidates they prefer. It’s that we come to see politics as spectator sports. The entire Republican-Democrat duopoly that keeps our nation’s doings in its iron grip is, indeed, modeled after a neverending game.

It’s all about who wins or loses. Fandom for the favored side is seldom based on any sort of rational thought. And the mega-rich who run the show from behind the scenes rake in endless boodle — at the taxpayers’ expense.

The entire Republican-Democrat duopoly that keeps our nation’s doings in its iron grip is modeled after a neverending game.

Now the overlords of the NFL are worried that, since the onset of the Kaepernick kerfuffle (now ramped up, for his own apparent political gain, by President Trump), attendance has declined. While this is terrible news for them, and for the crybaby players, it may actually be great news for We, the People. It shows where the power really lies — and how much of it we truly hold. It also proves that even in our increasingly socialized nation, the free market is still powerful enough to win the game.




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The Movement to Deify Hillary Clinton

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It’s clear that President Trump has the kind of following that will never go away. No matter what he does, no matter how often or how sharply he confounds his supporters’ expectations, crowds turn out to cheer him, and opinion polls point upward. He is the kind of leader whom crowds follow because he expresses their basic sense of the soundness of their own no-matter-what conceptions.

But what of Hillary Clinton? It could be argued, with great plausibility, that if there were no Hillary Clinton, there would be no Donald Trump. Although people often say that she “stands for nothing, only herself,” that self means a lot to a lot of the people who voted against her. To them she epitomizes the smug, entitled, mendacious, dictatorial, “I don’t mind giving your money away” managerial elite who disgusted enough people who voted for Barack Obama that they voted for Donald Trump the next time.

Nevertheless, Clinton has hardcore followers, and is likely to keep them. Some evidence for this is provided by the sales of her book. By mid-September, even after the pre-released passages and her own public appearances had made it an embarrassment for liberals and a laughingstock for conservatives, the book was said to have sold 300,000 copies. Statistics like this are almost always exaggerated, so let’s call it 200,000. Of that number, 100,000 represent the type of people who bought the memoirs of Ford or Nixon or any of the rest of them — people who had no intention of reading the thing but were planning to give it as a Christmas present to Aunt Bertha, who is suspected of having voted for the author. But that leaves 100,000, which is very good, even for a book that was instantly marked down by 30%. One hundred thousand is more people than there are Scientologists, and you know how much trouble they can cause.

Although people often say that Clinton “stands for nothing, only herself,” that self means a lot to a lot of the people who voted against her.

I won’t psychologize about Clinton supporters; I have no interest in their psychology, per se. But I have some interest in the means by which political cults can be kept alive.

In the old days, monarchs who were tossed out of office could keep being addressed as Your Majesty if they could scrape together enough money to maintain themselves as the target of romantic illusions. For a hundred years after its removal from the thrones of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, the main branch of the Stuart dynasty hung out in France, which subsidized the court of the “rightful king.” The Stuarts continued to attract the allegiance of people who, as Talleyrand was supposed to have said about the Bourbon dynasty, had learned nothing and forgotten nothing: “Ils n'ont rien appris, ni rien oublié.” And if someone wanted evidence of their claim to legitimacy, there it was, flowing in their veins — just look! They had royal blood; they were royal. They were who they were.

Hillary Clinton is now questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s election. But what does her government-in-exile present as evidence for her own legitimacy?

The answer is twofold.

1. Transparent falsehoods. Joe Scarborough, once MSNBC’s only fair-and-balanced talking head, now says that Hillary was done in by a hostile press: "I think the fake news media,” led by the New York Times, “was pretty damn hostile toward Hillary Clinton throughout most of the campaign." For proof, go to her followers: “Hillary Clinton supporters can tell you how many stories were done on [her email scandal]." The hostility consisted of reporting on the scandal; this should never have been done.

Like the Old Testament God, whose name was I Am That I Am, she simply exists as the rightful president.

It’s an odd position for a journalist to take, and few other people have taken it. As reported by The Hill, “A Suffolk University/USA Today poll released one week before the 2016 election showed that just 7.9 percent of 1,000 registered likely voters polled believed the media was rooting for Donald Trump to win, while 75.9 percent answered Clinton.” Transparent falsehoods tend to have small audiences. But this is a sample of the multitude of lies that Hillary and her fans keep telling themselves, as they excuse her failure to be elected, or assert that she actually won (but was counted out by Russian hackers, etc.). The multitude of excuses suggests that none of them works or is really important; they are all just impromptu rationalizations for . . .

2. A central claim. The claim is that Hillary Is What She Is, and that is enough. In fact, it’s plenty. Like the Old Testament God, whose name was I Am That I Am, and the existential situations expressed by the popular expression It Is What It Is, she simply exists as the rightful president. She is eternally, pristinely, incontrovertibly presidential, presidential by definition, presidential by a logic that excludes all questions and qualifications.

Here’s an example of the claim. It comes from a website, Verrit, which was founded by one of Hillary’s people, obviously with her blessing. The site is designed to refute the lies and confirm the truth — about her, and about the fallen world that ignorantly, stupidly, and insanely rejected her. Headlines: “Untold Damage from the G.O.P.’s Theft of a Supreme Court Seat”; “1.2 Trillion Gallons of Untreated Waste Dumped in U.S. Water Each Year”; “Republicans Determined to Strip Health Care from Millions”; “Despite Attacks, Hillary Clinton and Her Voters Refuse to Be Silenced”; “Study: Mainstream Media Acted as Trump’s Mouthpiece, Clinton’s Foe.”

It’s difficult to navigate around this site; you’re fortunate if you land on something that interests you. The item that interested me is headlined “Every Major Media Narrative About 2016 Is Demonstrably False.”

FAKE:Hillary Clinton was a “flawed” candidate.

FACT:Hillary Clinton is the first woman in history to become the presidential nominee of a major party. Would anyone characterize that as a “flaw?” Singling out Hillary Clinton as “flawed” when all humans are flawed has a decidedly sexist tinge. There is nothing particularly flawed about working a lifetime to become one of the most accomplished women in political history.

Furthermore, the incessant “flawed’ narrative is wrong on its face. Hillary Clinton’s approval rating after she left the State Department was a stunning 69% in a WSJ poll. She entered the 2016 race in a very strong position and was immediately met with a character assassination campaign unseen in U.S. politics. This Gallup chart illustrates the effect of the systematic demonization of Clinton . . .

There follows a chart showing Clinton’s popularity bouncing around since 1992, and declining about 20 points, starting with 2015. That’s it; that’s the evidence. Must have been the media, right? Couldn’t have been Hillary Clinton herself, because . . . she was Hillary Clinton, otherwise known as “the first woman in history to become the presidential nominee of a major party.” You can’t deny that, can you? No. Is that a flaw? No. So she is unflawed — by definition.

It’s just frosting on the cake that Clinton spent a lifetime working to become “one of the most accomplished women in political history,” but this also is mysticism. Like other mystical sayings, it means either less or more than it appears to mean. It could apply, not just to Hillary, but to that strange woman who keeps turning up at PTA meetings with her 19-Point Program for School Progress. She’s probably spent her whole life trying to be “one of the most accomplished” — so why isn’t she above reproach? Why isn’t she just as good as Bill Clinton’s wife?

That’s not where you’re supposed to go. You’re supposed to see that we’re talking about Hillary Clinton, and nobody else but Hillary Clinton — a unique person who is uniquely accomplished and therefore uniquely without flaw. This, for most minds, would be an idea susceptible to debate, but for a few hardcore worshipers it’s a dogma that requires nothing but assertion.

Must have been the media, right? Couldn’t have been Hillary Clinton herself, because she was Hillary Clinton.

So, the cult has been launched; the priests are assembling; the idol is in position; the ceremonies will go on for a while. For how long?

Until the money runs out. And it’s not likely to run out soon.

America is strewn with the wrecks of religious cults that continue despite a general collapse of confidence. There is still a House of David, in some form; there is still a Scientology; and, more to the present point, there is still an I Am Movement. You may not have heard of all of these survivals, but that’s just because they no longer have money. The Clintons have tons of money, and they can employ as many priests as they are willing to open their wallets to. Hillary will try it again in 2020, and after her rebuff, and the Disney-produced funeral for Bill, she will anoint her offspring to continue the line of unflawed politicians. Every failed attempt will be regarded as yet more proof of the reality of those forces of darkness that ever wage war upon God and her elect.

She Is What She Is.




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Evidence for Emerson

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In the olden days — say, the 1960s — college professors were still carrying on debates about something called the Influence of Great Men on History. Basically, they denied that there was any.

Emerson had written, “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man . . . and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.” A century later, not many earnest professors, spending their lives in the lengthened shadows of the American Historical Association, cared to believe that. Even Bismarck and Napoleon were the products of social circumstances, etc.

Trump’s very deficiencies offer good evidence for the historical influence of personality.

Arrayed on the other side were the writers of popular history. Whether they were sincerely attracted to the Emersonian idea, or they knew that social history doesn’t sell, they busied themselves about topics that assumed the crucial influence of a few important people. The multitudes of What Would Have Happened articles exemplify the trend: what would have happened if Hitler had ordered more air attacks at Dunkirk? What would have happened if Lincoln had not been shot? What would have happened if Lee had occupied better terrain at Gettysburg?

Well, what indeed? But the academics just got more and more “social.” Today, if you want to publish historical articles with Emersonian assumptions, you will not, I repeat not, get tenure.

Yet although they don’t seem to realize it, the professors are now faced with a dilemma. Almost all of them hate President Trump, and lots of them spend their idle hours — which appear to be many — campaigning against him, asserting that if he is permitted to prevail, America will become a nationalist, white supremacist, xenophobic state. But this assumes that the political shape of the nation has a good chance of being irrevocably changed by the election of a single powerful personality. And this is contrary to what you think you believe.

Trump — because he is Trump — diverted himself with midnight messages, confused assaults on Obamacare, and puerile entertainment of his core supporters.

I’ll leave people who are so wise about history to discuss that problem among themselves. I simply wish to note that Trump’s very deficiencies offer good evidence for the historical influence of personality. If Trump’s personality were not significant, wouldn’t the social movement that elected him have the professors and the other members of the ruling class on the run by now?

A person of normal discernment could have followed up his victory, which was a triumph over the entrenched leadership of both political parties, by getting at least three or four parts of his agenda immediately enacted. Every victory would have strengthened his position for the next big effort to fulfill his movement’s social demands. But no. Trump — because he is Trump — diverted himself with midnight messages, confused assaults on Obamacare, and puerile entertainment of his core supporters. So far, none of his opponents’ fears, real or purported, have turned out to have been justified. Is this not evidence for the crucial importance of the individual personality?

And as to his opponents . . . Their strategy has depended on the socialist ideal of mass resistance among the populace. And what has this strategy accomplished? Nothing in particular. What has stymied Trump hasn’t been their Marches for Science and Marches for Women and Marches Against the Border and Marches for the Sake of Marches. It has been the lengthened shadow of Trump himself.




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Infighting: The Libertarian National Pastime

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Baseball is America's national pastime, or so the saying goes. I can say something similar for the libertarian movement. Not a day goes by that two well-known libertarians don't have a fight on Facebook or Twitter, each accusing and condemning the other and seeking to persuade the other to leave the libertarian movement entirely. On some days, in Facebook’s libertarian groups, there are entire wars — the military campaigns and attacks and counterattacks of masses of people fighting each other. All of these people self-define as "libertarian"!

Why does this happen? I think one explanation is that, to be a "libertarian," one must (probably) possess certain core beliefs about freedom, capitalism, etc., and have a certain attitude toward government and individual rights. The Non-Aggression Axiom is a nice summary of that attitude. But that leaves room for many positions, on many issues — which means that there are many issues about which libertarians have passionate feelings. Since core libertarian values don’t clearly define what your position on these issues should be, there are going to be many people in strong opposition, within the same tent.

In Facebook’s libertarian groups, there are entire wars — the military campaigns and attacks and counterattacks of masses of people fighting each other.

For example, a libertarian can be pro-choice or pro-life, can be minarchist or anarchist, can be for open immigration or closed borders, can be pro-GOP or pro-LP or pro-anarchy, can be pro-Trump or anti-Trump. I would even say that a libertarian can be anti-Union and pro-Confederacy (from opposition to centralized government) or anti-Confederacy and pro-Union (from opposition to slavery) — although it is curious that this quarrel is still considered relevant, more than a century and a half after the Civil War ended.

So, let's be frank. Take, for example, abortion. Pro-life people believe they are crusaders against the murder of babies. Pro-choice people believe they are crusaders for women's rights, and that the government’s taking control of a woman's body is the moral equivalent of rape. These people hate each other. But, within the big tent of libertarianism, both types of people exist, often in even numbers.

Because this issue is so important, fighting is inevitable. But note that libertarians, as a group, tend to be people who define their identity by means of their political positions. As such, libertarians will tend, not merely to argue, but to try to say that theirs is the position that should win, that it is the "one true libertarianism," that it is logically necessary from libertarian core principles (which it never is, because the core principles don't define these positions), and then kick everyone who disagrees out of the movement. To continue my example: the pro-life libertarians will accuse the pro-choice ones of being liberals who should go join the Democratic Party; in return, the pro-choice libertarians will call the pro-lifers closet conservatives who should call themselves such. And then, to each other, they will say GFY, GTFO, and other rude, insulting acronyms I only learned after spending some time on Facebook Groups.

A bunch of robots marching in unison is not what people seek in the spirit of truth and beauty that comes from political freedom.

And do you know what I think? I think this is necessary because of the structural foundation of the libertarian position itself. Liberty specifies a few core positions and then leaves gaps and room for individuals to think through their own beliefs on each specific issue. And you know what else? I think that this is how things are always going to be, and any alternative would be no better, even though this state of affairs has some toxic consequences.

What would be better? For some master leader of the movement to choose his position and impose it on every other libertarian, so that the movement could have ideological purity and unity? A bunch of robots marching in unison is not what people seek in the spirit of truth and beauty that comes from political freedom. And, in the absence of someone forcing everyone else to conform to one position, the diversity of positions will persist, and from them follows the necessary infighting.

But what are the toxic side effects? Libertarians can't agree on specific political issues, hence cannot rally around one candidate. If all the libertarians who are registered Republican, and all the ones who are registered Libertarian, and all sympathizers of both, could vote on one unity candidate, that might be enough votes to pose a threat to the establishment. But it can't happen, because there is too much disunity to unite around one candidate. With libertarian votes split between GOP, LP, and people who don't vote as a matter of principle, we just don't have the votes to elect our own candidates. Furthermore, constant infighting creates a militant, disrespectful culture, in which libertarians, who should naturally be friends, become their own fiercest enemies.

What is the solution to this problem? As I see it, there isn't one, and if there were it would be worse than the problem. In a free-for-all, there is fighting, and unregulated capitalism is, among many other things, a free-for-all.

Constant infighting creates a militant, disrespectful culture, in which libertarians, who should naturally be friends, become their own fiercest enemies.

But, to conclude on a note of hope, the candidacy of Trump proves that charisma is far more important for getting votes than party unity. If the Libertarian Party would nominate a candidate with great personal charisma and a cult of personality, then he or she could win the White House. If Trump can win then anyone can. But until that happens, we'll just wait on the sidelines of politics and kick one another in the teeth for disagreeing about which color of mouthwash is correct for libertarian dental hygiene. And, of course, both sides will think that the color of their mouthwash is defined by the Non-Aggression Axiom or Ayn Rand or Murray Rothbard or Ron Paul, and that they themselves are obviously correct, and that everyone else can JGTFO.




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All that Glitters Is Not Green

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Say what you will about urban woes, there is an American City — let’s call it the Emerald City — where everything appears to be swell, all the time. Just think: even among its lowly municipal employees there are 10,600 who make over $100,000 a year. That’s $1.3 billion a year, total.

This city employs a commissioner of aviation — I suppose to fend off flying monkeys and witches on broomsticks. The commissioner must do a good job, because last year she earned a $100,000 bonus, on top of her $300,000 salary.

Emerald City’s Water Management Department employs none but the finest: more than 700 of its people merit and receive over $100,000 a year, each.

This city employs a commissioner of aviation — I suppose to fend off flying monkeys and witches on broomsticks.

To keep the streets all green and shiny, Emerald City pays at least 160 of its Streets and Sanitation employees more than $100,000 a year. And to keep those streets safe, the city fields 5,007 Police Department employees who work so hard, what with overtime and all, that they too make more than $100,000.

Their salaries are especially well merited, considering the extreme and demoralizing difficulty of solving the city’s crimes. In this capital of clever criminals, more than 71% of murders go unsolved, despite the efforts of 4,800 police detectives, some of whom are paid more than $120,000 in overtime alone.

Only a happy and wealthy populace can afford to employ civil servants at prices like these. The willingness — nay, the eagerness — of Emerald City’s citizens to employ no one but the best is indicated by the fact that during the past five years, the average family’s tax contribution has increased by $1,700. That’s city taxes alone, mind you. But the citizens go farther: as of three years ago, they were willing to go into debt to the tune of $63 billion, an average of $61,000 per household — more than enough to move into a brand-new house almost anywhere on the Yellow Brick Road. And those figures have risen since.

But here’s a curious thing. The median household income of the United States is something like $56,000, but in only 16 of Emerald City’s 50 most populous statistical neighborhoods is the median household income $56,000 or greater. The bottom 16 neighborhoods have incomes of less than $37,000. Isn’t that interesting?

In this capital of clever criminals, more than 71% of murders go unsolved, despite the efforts of 4,800 police detectives, some of whom are paid more than $120,000 in overtime alone.

Another interesting statistic: In 2016, there were 762 homicides in Emerald City, a number that a police spokesman called “unacceptable.” Yet by mid-August of this year, the figure for 2017 already stood at 463.

And if report be true, Emerald City is not the spotless land of delight that Dorothy Gale reported visiting. Recent visitors speak of filthy streets, ridiculous traffic, ugly social customs, and a general sense that if you are not very rich in Emerald City, then you are very poor.

Yet, according to statistics, not many of the very rich actually live in Emerald City. None of the city’s 50 neighborhoods has a median household income of $100,000. In the wealthiest one, median incomes are in the low 90s, less than the incomes just cited for the 10,600 civil servants. And since the median income of the entire city is only $47,000, it seems likely that a sociologist would analyze the situation as one in which a comparatively small number of city employees ruthlessly exploit the great majority of their employers, giving them practically nothing in return.

The sociologist might then turn to the political scientist and ask, “How long can this go on?” The political scientist might answer, “Who knows? Somehow, the voters of Emerald City have empowered the same political party, the same political customs, the same political regime, for more than three generations, no matter what happened as a result. This looks like a job for a psychologist.”

Recent visitors speak of filthy streets, ridiculous traffic, ugly social customs, and a general sense that if you are not very rich in Emerald City, then you are very poor.

Thus consulted, the psychologist would probably say, “The citizens of Emerald City are like almost everyone else in the United States. They all do things like this. Who am I to judge? Statistically, people in Emerald City are sane and normal.”

I think there’s a chapter in one of the Oz books where this problem comes up. Having discovered what is actually going on in the Emerald City, a crowd rushes to the palace, shouting, “To the Wizard! To the Wizard! The Wizard will explain it!” Sure enough, the door of the palace opens, and out comes the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He’s carrying a book, and he says, “Back where I come from, we have people who are called theo . . . theologo . . . theologians! They spend all day thinking about the human soul. And they have nothing more to say about it than they can find in this old book.”

The Wizard opens it and reads:

A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?

“So,” said the Wizard, “you can all go home. Get out of here now — go on! Go on home.”




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The Liberty League

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Individuality is a concept crucial to liberty. The understanding that each of us is an individual is necessary if we are to keep our freedom and use it wisely. Individuality is, therefore, the main concept that tyrants want us to forget. Tyranny makes war on the individual. That means that it makes war on each and every one of us.

I hear a lot of talk, in libertarian circles, about “isms” and “ists.” It seems that these days, everyone has to adhere to an “ism,” be some sort of an “ist” or at least march under a banner that makes a bold statement. Am I a paleolibertarian, an anarchocapitalist, an Objectivist, a Rothbardian, or a Gold Coinage Free Spiritarian? (I made that last one up, but it sounds grand.) When I tell people that I consider myself a just plain libertarian, they tend to sigh as if to say, “How boring!”

It’s disheartening to me to hear my fellow liberty-lovers label themselves like that. I like to think that only statists think that way. But to most people of any political stripe, it seems inadequate simply to be themselves. It’s as if they’re little kids, trying on different superhero costumes at the department store. Which color cape, tights, and boots do they want to wear? What sort of special superpowers do they aspire to possess?

Tyranny makes war on the individual. That means that it makes war on each and every one of us.

I have reached that settled point in middle age where my main concern is how I believe I should live. How can I be the best individual human being I’m capable of being, based on my own priorities in life? Flashy capes and go-go boots do nothing for me (as probably everyone who could visualize me in them would agree). Living my own, ordinary, non-superheroic life is pretty much a full-time job.

Perhaps our society’s fascination with superheroes springs from the notion that we, ourselves, as individuals, are woefully insignificant. To many people, minding their own business and living their individual lives as best they can is simply boring. Being masters of themselves and wielding power in their own lives doesn’t strike them as enough.

But the truth of the matter is, that’s all we’ve got. Each of us can do, in our lives, only whatever it is given us to do. If our liberty to live as we see fit is not impeded, and we accomplish this, then at the end of our lives we can be satisfied that we’ve reached our full potential. It could very well be that the reason big government and political power have become so important in our society is that few of us understand that.

Our society’s fascination with superheroes may spring from the notion that we, ourselves, as individuals, are woefully insignificant.

Many people feel the burning need to tell others how to live. They aren’t content unless they’re wielding power over as many other people as possible. Because they don’t see themselves as enough, they feel they must join some entity larger than themselves, wear a fancy label, and function as components of a collective endeavor. Planning their own lives is not nearly as exciting as planning everyone else’s.

We wear labels in order to influence other people. To mind our own business, we need no label. A life of quiet integrity leads by example. Few of us ever learn that this is the deepest and most profound influence any human being can ever wield.

It’s possible, of course, that those of us who are libertarians would win more converts if we donned colorful costumes with tights and capes. Instead of “The Justice League,” we could call ourselves “The Liberty League.” Ours would need to be more effective than the old American Liberty League of the 1930s. After all, we wouldn’t want to be one-picture wonders. To endure, we must have an entire franchise.

If Hollywood did make movies about us, liberty would become — as the kids say — a thing. But under those conditions, my own wish would be to possess Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. I could stride into D.C. brandishing that magical weapon and drive every politician and ideologist, of whatever kind, out of town. I can imagine no service I might perform for my country that would be more superheroic.




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Capitalism Claims Another Victim

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A few years ago I invented something called the Atlas Shrugged Scale. It’s a way of estimating how close reality comes to the satire in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Some may recall the time when the novel’s portrayal of bureaucrats, social activists, government enforcers, and crony capitalists was denounced as impossibly far-fetched, as just downright pigheadedly mean. We don’t hear much talk like that anymore.

The reason is that every day brings us real-life stories that seem to be written by Ayn Rand, still satirizing from the Next World.

The moral that friends of the college take home with them is that the college was a victim of the capitalist system.

Here’s one. A college is started by a dissident professor who thinks it’s a good thing for faculty to be scared by their students. He puts his college in an economically depressed town where lots of people have time and government benefits on their hands. It apparently admits everyone who wants to enroll, and to have no required courses. There are no grades. Yet in 40 years it manages to enroll at most 200 people at a time. When the college wants to establish a “cultural exchange” with another institution, it chooses the University of Havana. Vaunted college accreditors vouch for the place.

The annual budget of this college is around $20,000 per student, a hefty sum for a place that barely exists. But its president, who seems to owe her appointment to the fact that she is married to a congressman who is a former mayor of the town (and a future US senator), borrows millions of dollars to expand the campus, assuring lenders that there is plenty of money coming in. The money doesn’t come in, although the president has no problem collecting her large salary. Finally she is prevailed upon to resign. Her successor is persuaded to resign by a student mob. Two years after that, the college collapses and ceases to exist. The moral that friends of the college take home with them is that the college was a victim of . . . the capitalist system.

The story is well summarized here. The institution is Burlington College. Its former president is Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie Sanders. The story’s score on the Atlas Shrugged Scale is 9.

Don’t ask me what events would justify a 10. I’m not sure we can take that much satire.




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Buchanan the Wicked?

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Morbid curiosity tempts me to buy and read Nancy MacLean’s new book Democracy in Chains, but I have resisted so far; for I don’t want to add to the unearned wealth that her book’s notoriety will probably bring her. I know enough from reviews, favorable and unfavorable, and from a published interview with the author herself, to understand that one main theme is the supposed wicked influence of James Buchanan.

I knew Buchanan very well from 1957, when, as Economics Department chairman, he brought me to the University of Virginia. There I was his academic colleague and friend. After he left the University of Virginia (in honorable protest against the University administration’s maltreatment of a colleague), I kept in contact with him and often saw him at professional meetings and occasionally at his homes in Blacksburg and then Fairfax.

Buchanan took economics seriously. He wouldn’t waste time on conspiracies and was no apologist for the wealthy and powerful.

Buchanan took economics seriously. He drew inspiration from his admired professor at Chicago, Frank Knight, and from the writings of the Swedish economist Knut Wicksell. He encouraged the creative thinking of his graduate students. He was a fabulously hard worker whose collected writings fill 20 large volumes and whose Nobel Prize was amply deserved. He wouldn’t waste time on conspiracies and was no apologist for the wealthy and powerful.

I understand Buchanan’s economic and political philosophy quite well, for my own is close to his. He was more of an egalitarian than I am, favoring an extreme estate tax and pondering redistributionary taxation as an arrangement whereby people insure one another against economic distress. While not completely agreeing with John Rawls, who called for social and economic arrangements designed to maximize the welfare of the least-well-off stratum of the population, he admired Rawls and his writings.

As for his thought on limits to democracy, I could expound it at length and enthusiastically. He admired the American Founders, who wisely tried to create a constitutional republic charged with protecting people’s rights even against abusive majorities and government itself. (“Democracy” is a much abused word, sabotaging clear thought by cramming various and even inconsistent good things together under a single label.)

In short, James Buchanan was an entirely different person from the one that Ms. MacLean imagines. She did not bother to know what she was writing about. But historians and journalists have a professional duty to check the truth of what they write.




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Expiring Minds Don’t Want to Know

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I fear for many of my friends. I fear for my country. Because of many of my friends, I fear for my country.

Earlier this summer, I attended a pool party hosted by the local chapter of a gay and lesbian Catholic organization. Though a precious few of us are libertarians or conservatives, it shouldn’t be hard to guess the political sentiments of the rest. And sentiments they are. I’ve come to believe that they amount to little more.

Prior to the Era of Trump, these people talked about politics only slightly more often than anyone else. Since this past November, they’ve been obsessed with the president. Specifically, they’re obsessed with the notion of deposing him from power.

In their minds, Vice-President Mike Pence has morphed from a homophobic zealot into a genial and benevolent soul, sort of an amiable dunce.

How are they going to accomplish this? Though the details are fuzzy, it has something to do with the Russians. They’ll find some other reason when the Russian thing poops out — as it eventually and mercifully will. And after that, there will be another, and then another. Their logic about each reason will be as murky as it was about the one before.

Reason itself is now considered, by the enlightened souls who have taken it upon themselves to enlighten my friends, to be Western and Judeo-Christian, white-skinned and patriarchal. Therefore it has been banished from Left World. I’m not sure what’s supposed to replace it. But if the leftists I know give any indication, what they say scares the hell out of me.

In the minds of my “progressive” pool party friends, Vice-President Mike Pence has morphed from a homophobic zealot into a genial and benevolent soul, sort of an amiable dunce in the tradition of their cartoon-character Reagan (rehabilitated from villainy when it suits them), who will be a “responsible caretaker president” in a time of new political peace. Which, of course, they’re currently convinced the nation will enjoy, once the Evil Donald has been driven from the White House. It’s what they are evidently being told by those who tell them what to think. When I told them what I thought would really happen, they reacted as if I were as unfabulous as the Wicked Witch of the West, swooping down on herbroom to snatch Toto.

Because of my pesky and apparently incurable habit of thinking without seeking permission, I became a heretic.

What I said was that Trump is not going to be impeached. But that if he were, the Republicans would probably not permit another Democrat president to finish a term for some time to come. And that in the meantime, the leftist puppeteers and their puppetettes would quickly turn from seeing President Pence as a harmless caretaker into damning him as the Devil. He’d almost certainly give them a lot more to be outraged about than Trump ever would.

How soon they forget that the same Mike Pence advocated taking money from research on HIV/AIDS and using it, instead, “to provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” That he defended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by calling it “a successful compromise” and warned that permitting gays to serve in the military without hiding their orientation would “advance some liberal domestic social agenda.” That he declared, “There’s no question [that] to mainstream homosexuality within active duty military would have an impact on unit cohesion.” And that he imagines Disney engaged in a dark plot to corrupt the tender flower of American womanhood, having once said, of the movie Mulan, he suspected “that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right.”

Do my friends even realize the next step to which they’re being led by their lords and masters? The goal, of course, is not merely to get rid of Trump. By whatever means necessary — no matter how illegal or unconstitutional — they want to control the government of this country and the lives of its people. This means that however benign the Left’s leaders may sound about the vice-president at the moment, they will not ultimately let him stand in their way.

Whatever must it feel like, to be told exactly what to think and not to be permitted to think anything else, on peril of excommunication from the Church of Progressive Feelgood? I don’t know; because of my pesky and apparently incurable habit of thinking without seeking permission, I became a heretic. I was a libertarian even before I knew what a libertarian was. I left the Left for many reasons, but perhaps the main one was that being led around like a sheep is little better than a walking death. The greater distance I place between myself and my former political comrades, the more horrifying their mentality becomes to me.

Would they want to live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another was no longer possible?

Another friend of mine, an 80-something Hillary Clinton Democrat, recently remarked of Trump that “we need to get him out of there.” Once upon a time, simply to avoid an argument, I would have let that slide. But I’ve gotten so tired of listening to all the mean-girls-in-the-cafeteria sniping that I asked her for an explanation. She spluttered a little, then changed the subject.

I don’t think she knew why she thought “we” needed to get President Trump “out of there.” She just knew that she was supposed to think it. And she was perfectly comfortable saying so, because she assumed I knew that I’m supposed to think it, too.

Do the leftist demigods’ obedient little do-bees even realize what life in this country will be like if our electoral system is destroyed by nonsense like this? Would they want to live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another was no longer possible? There’s a lot about our political life that I dislike. That doesn’t mean I want to see the United States turned into a Third World hellhole.

Our political environment is beginning to resemble one of those horror movies in which an evil entity possesses people, transforms them into zombies, and programs their terminated brains so they’ll destroy the country. That may sound hyperbolic, but I’m no longer sure that isn’t really what’s happening. As the undead rise out of the cornfields wielding scythes, they aren’t even allowed to suffer a stray idea. If there are any other ideas, expiring minds don’t want to know about them.

It simply isn’t natural for a huge population of human beings to have such uniform opinions. When their views are truly their own, unanimity is impossible. Even if they were all inspired to random acts of kindness and goodwill toward all, their uniformity would still be creepy, although it might make the world a nicer place. If they were all possessed by the spirit of self-reliance and fiscal responsibility, they could save the country. But the ideas they share are almost all abysmally stupid and destructive. It’s hard to understand how even a few of them could come up with such foolishness by their own best mental efforts.

There’s a lot about our political life that I dislike. That doesn’t mean I want to see the United States turned into a Third World hellhole.

There is no way to turn this idiotic tide by dint of any collective counteraction. As big a job as it is, it must be tackled by a great many of us as individuals. It won’t be pleasant, because we’ll need to be the skunks at an endless number of garden parties. But I’m beginning to find that it isn’t as difficult as I feared. I keep making an infernal, contrary nuisance of myself, but I haven’t lost a friend yet.

What I do, in polite conversation, is the equivalent of waving a hand in front of their faces, snapping my fingers, shining a flashlight in their eyes (or ears) and saying — as encouragingly as I can — “I know you’re in there somewhere.” I tell them they’re too smart to believe the things they say. Instead of calling them idiots, I say that the people telling them such rot are mendacious hucksters who think (quite wrongly!) that their audience must be idiots. A surprising amount of the time, this works at waking them up,at least for a fewminutes.

They live in such a bubble that many of them honestly don’t know there’s any other way to think, but friends don’t let friends become zombies. Every expiring mind is worth saving. As they’re probably sure former Vice President Dan Quayle once said, “A mind is a terrible thing to lose.”




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The Courts and the Second Amendment

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In 2008, the Supreme Court started a new era of Second Amendment jurisprudence.

This is no exaggeration. When the Heller opinion was published (District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 [2008]), I was surprised to learn that the Court had never decided whether the Second Amendment gave individuals (as opposed to collectives, such as militias) any right to keep or carry firearms. That had been an open question. So, Heller was a big deal, and the justices knew it. The case opened a can of worms — hundreds of plaintiffs would try to wriggle out of states’ prohibitions on the possession and carrying of guns. However, the case said very little about the extent of the right or how it could be limited by law.

In restricting private ownership, possession, and use of guns, the D.C. laws went almost as far as imaginable without imposing a complete ban.

How could a legal opinion say so much and so little at the same time? It was the factual context of the decision that made this possible. When I was in law school I heard the maxim “hard cases make bad law,” meaning that cases of extraordinarily sympathetic circumstances (think widows and orphans) might motivate a lawmaker or judge to create a rule that had bad unintended consequences when applied generally. I think that the majority in Heller saw the case as sort of the opposite: an easy case to make good law. The plaintiff was challenging the laws of the District of Columbia. In restricting private ownership, possession, and use of guns, the D.C. laws went almost as far as imaginable without imposing a complete ban. Private ownership of handguns was banned. Rifles and shotguns might be kept at home but locked or disassembled, in other words, not useful in an emergency.

Finding an individual right in the Second Amendment was a big step. But if you wanted to make that big step as small as possible, the facts behind Heller were just about perfect.

What Heller said was that the Second Amendment gave the plaintiff some kind of individual, civil right, and that right was enough to invalidate D.C.’s heavy restrictions. It was a very limited application of an individual right. Even so, the opinion, a 5–4 split of the Court, drew sharp criticism from the dissenting minority and also from some very good scholars, including Richard Posner, generally thought to be a conservative from the “law & economics” school of jurisprudence. Critics accused the conservative majority of being unprincipled by practicing judicial activism instead of the restraint they often championed.

How far do the rights established in Heller go? What other restrictions on guns might be unconstitutional? Nobody knows. The individual right may be very modestly interpreted. Maybe every other gun law in the country is still constitutionally permitted.

Heller must mean a little bit more than sitting in your bedroom with a shotgun. Eventually, starkly contrasting circuit court cases will force the Supreme Court to say more.

The lower courts and the circuit courts of appeal have had to deal with Heller many, many times. The appeal of California’s Peruta case (Peruta v. County of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919 [9th Cir. 2016] [en banc]) gave the Supreme Court an interesting opportunity to apply Heller. In Peruta, the Ninth Circuit said that the Constitution does not give individuals any right to carry concealed firearms. In California, concealed carry requires a license, granted only for “good cause.” Licenses are rarely and, the plaintiffs would say, arbitrarily granted. Also, open carry is generally banned, by California Assembly Bill No. 144. The Ninth Circuit explicitly declined to say whether banning open carry was constitutional. Therefore, Peruta presents a nice little web of questions. Can all public carry be banned? Maybe. Heller was about keeping guns at home. But its principles seem to go much farther, once this is determined to be an individual right: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Can concealed carry be banned when open carry is permitted? Can open carry be banned when concealed carry is permitted? Can open carry be banned while concealed carry is extremely limited (the current law in California)?

We know that the Supreme Court does not want to answer any of these questions right now, because on June 26 it declined to hear the appeal. That means fewer than four justices voted to take the case. It does not mean they agree with the Ninth Circuit or that they disagree.

I guess that, if forced to decide, the Court would find something wrong with California’s restrictions. Heller must mean a little bit more than sitting in your bedroom with a shotgun. Eventually, starkly contrasting circuit court cases will force the Supreme Court to say more. For now, outside of a few states like California, the political battle for gun rights is way ahead of the courts. All but about 15 states have either “shall issue” licensing or no license requirement at all for the concealed carry of handguns.




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