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All Reason.com articles with the "History" tag.



Published: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 01:12:03 -0500

 



Churchill's Antidote to Political Rage

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 12:00:00 -0500

"I've never in my adult life," observes David French, a writer for National Review, "seen so many people so angry about things they cannot control." The current hour is one of "defining people by their mistakes," he says, and "hating our ideological enemies." This is not new information. Many others across the ideological spectrum have uttered the same lament. But the laments have not diminished the volume of rage. To some degree the rage is understandable. People have plenty to be angry about. But much of the animosity seems out of all proportion. It is one thing to despise and vilify a foreign tyrant who tortures innocent children. It is something else again to despise and vilify someone who didn't vote for the same political candidate you did. You have to take politics extremely seriously for that. But as serious as politics might seem today, it cannot be more serious than it was in Britain in 1940—when the wrong political choices could threaten the nation's very existence. Two years before, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had signed the Munich Agreement, which ceded the Sudetenland to Hitler's Germany. Chamberlain returned to England boasting that he had achieved "peace for our time." A year later Hitler invaded Poland, and Chamberlain's name became synonymous with "appeasement"—which ever since has carried the stench of timorous naiveté. Munich itself has become both an argument by way of analogy and a cliché: Running a Google search about the Obama administration's "Iran deal" and "Munich," for instance, returns thousands upon thousands of results. This version of history is hard on Chamberlain and omits certain complexities. As Alex Massie reminded readers in The Spectator a few years ago, after the Polish invasion "Chamberlain actually declared war on Germany, rather than vice versa." Massie also cites the views of Winston Churchill on Munich: "Those who are prone by temperament and character to seek sharp and clear-cut solutions of difficult and obscure problems," Churchill wrote later, "who are ready to fight whenever some challenge comes from a foreign power, have not always been right. "On the other hand, those whose inclination is to bow their heads, to seek patiently and faithfully for peaceful compromise, are not always wrong. On the contrary, in the majority of instances, they may be right." Nobody had more reason to gloat "I told you so" over Chamberlain's miscalculation at Munich than Churchill, who had been warning about the German menace far longer than most people had cared to listen. And yet when Chamberlain died in 1940, Churchill delivered a eulogy at once clear-eyed and generous: "In paying a tribute of respect and of regard to an eminent man who has been taken from us, no one is obliged to alter the opinions which he has formed or expressed upon issues which have become a part of history," Churchill began. "In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values... "It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart—the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in goo[...]



Statist Just-So Stories

Sun, 26 Nov 2017 06:00:00 -0500

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, by James C. Scott, Yale University Press, 336 pages, $26 For more than 40 years, James Scott has written about those who resist being incorporated into political-economic systems. Initially focused on Southeast Asia, he later expanded his field of vision to large-scale bureaucratic institutions around the world. He has consistently emphasized the ways that such structures try to transform the populations they govern into well-behaved, easily supervisable units—laborers, taxpayers, soldiers—but also the ways those populations work around and subvert the aimed-for transformations. In a provocative new book, Against the Grain, Scott now challenges us to rethink legends about the state and its origins. Populations ruled by states tell stories about their emergence into civilization, stories that cast the non-state peoples around them as primitives and barbarians. These stories are familiar from the era of European imperialism and from early modern philosophers like Locke and Rousseau, but they're common to state-governed populations around the world and throughout history. Scott calls them into deep doubt. His early work focused on agriculture, including colonial regimes' forcible transformation of peasant communities into plantation workers. Where Marxists looked at the absence of revolution and charged farmworkers with false consciousness, Scott argued that they understood their interests fully well and fought back as best they could, using "the weapons of the weak" and "the arts of resistance," from foot dragging to sabotage to mockery. In Seeing Like a State (1998) and The Art of Not Being Governed (2009), Scott shifted his attention to political institutions. States seek to make their populations "legible," he argued: countable, mappable, surveyable, and thus easily taxable and conscriptable. People seek to protect themselves from all that, sometimes by escaping into anarchic regions where the projection of state power is impractical. In his emphasis on institutional surveillance, Scott overlapped with the French social theorist Michel Foucault. But in his insistence that states' efforts could never entirely succeed because too much social knowledge is local and tacit, he shared more with F.A. Hayek and Michael Oakeshott. And with his attention to the resistance of governed populations, he stood out from any of those. As he puts it in his newest book, "the first and most prudent assumption about historical actors is that, given their resources and what they know, they are acting reasonably to secure their immediate interests." While Foucault sometimes seems to see no human agency anywhere, Scott sees it everywhere. Against the Grain applies all these ideas to the study of the origins of the state in the Mesopotamian "cradle of civilization." This is a shorter, more accessible text, not based on Scott's own original research. He is not an archeologist or ancient historian; indeed, he was inspired to write the book when he learned that he subscribed to a narrative about the era that specialists regarded as out of date. In that narrative, crop and animal domestication allowed our ancestors to abandon their difficult search for food, to settle down in one place, and to benefit from the productive bounty of fixed-field agriculture. As settlements grew into cities, political rule emerged and further facilitated farming, especially through public irrigation projects. It turns out that settlement, statehood, and farming were separated by thousands of years in ancient Mesopotamia. Scott sets out to interpret this evidence, in ways that radically undermine traditional stories about the state's function. He argues that even partly settled populations that were able to cultivate crops still generally avoided the fixed-field, full-time farming of a small number of grains and animals, preferring the range of foods and the very different rhythm of labor they had access to in the flood plains of the region. Those who did settle and farm paid a pri[...]



Prosthetic Limbs Make Great Weapons: A History

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 12:30:00 -0500

On March 25, 1899, a curious article in the Neihart Herald declared that "it has recently been decided by an English court that artificial limbs are weapons when used advantageously in a fight." It wasn't the first time the press had noted that prosthetic limbs could be wielded during altercations. The Belfast Telegraph of April 17, 1873, mentions that a prisoner "used his wooden leg as a weapon. " A vivid article in an 1893 edition of the Illustrated Police News describes how one Patrick Murphy attacked a constable with his wooden leg, "in the use of which he was most proficient." In the August 22, 1895, Pierre Weekly Free Press, we learn that one Harry Crawford "accidentally ran into...a cripple" while driving. In revenge, the victim attacked Crawford "using his wooden leg as a weapon and inflicting injuries that the doctors say will cost Crawford his life." If they weren't used as weapons themselves, hollow appendages could contain lethal contraband. In 1904, the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette discussed the case of a man shot to death in Spain. When police apprehended a nearby beggar, "no weapon could be found upon him." But it eventually emerged that the killer had stashed a firearm within one of his wooden legs. Legs were not the only artificial limbs used as weapons. On October 28, 1871, The Kentish Independent reported that one William Benson, whose hand had been replaced with an iron hook, attacked someone with such force that his victim's face had been "bound up" as a result. An 1885 edition of the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser announced a "Savage Attack with a Wooden Arm." And in Charleston, West Virginia, a 1914 report describes a fight involving both a prosthetic leg and a glass eye. A prankster had used horsehair and glue to give the impression that a man's wooden leg had grown hair. His target, named Alexander James, did not see the humor and attacked the culprit with the leg. The joker responded by throwing his glass eye at the assailant. A theme runs through such accounts: the idea that by transforming an artificial limb from a tool of medicine to a tool of violence, the attackers have shown themselves to be evil. "Tis well under certain circumstances to have a wooden leg," the Cardiff Times declared in 1893, "but tis tyrannous to use it as a cudgel." Limb attacks also appear in several notable works of 19th century fiction, where again they are often associated with villainy. In Prosthetic Body Parts in Literature and Culture, 1832 to 1908, University of Leeds research fellow Ryan Sweet notes that Moby Dick's Captain Boomer "is adorned with a prosthetic device that is specially designed to act as a weapon." Sweet also highlights a Sherlock Holmes story in which a character beats a "prison guard to death using his wooden leg" before the limb bogs him down in the mud. (This is another familiar narrative, in which a villain's artificial limb gives him a temporary combat advantage but ultimately defeats him.) Wooden legs do appear to have been brutally effective weapons. More sophisticated replacements were being developed, but as the University of Georgia historian Stephen Mihm notes, these initially "failed to respond reliably and predictably to the movement and weight of the body." It seems that the simple wooden leg's uncomplicated nature made it suitable both for movement and as a weapon. World War I, which disabled thousands of soldiers, would transform artificial limbs, however. On November 17, 1922, The Lichfield Mercury declared the "End of Wooden Legs," reporting that every soldier who had lost a leg in the war could have his wooden limb replaced for free with a lightweight metal prosthetic. This change in technology didn't stop artificial limbs from being used as weapons, nor did it end the tendency in popular culture to associate such tools with knaves. Several James Bond antagonists attempt to kill the hero with artificial limbs. In the film Dr. No, the title character attacks Bond with using bionic hands but—repeating [...]



Sex and Communism

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 05:00:00 -0500

Max Eastman: A Life, by Christoph Irmscher, Yale University Press, 434 pages, $40 "It doesn't cheapen the aims of this biography or the ambitions of its subject," writes Christoph Irmscher, "to describe what follows as a story largely about sex and communism." What follows is the life of Max Eastman—poet, nudist, women's suffragist, war resister, socialist editor, and finally a self-described "libertarian conservative." William F. Buckley Jr. found his atheism unpalatable. But to a teenage Carly Simon, Eastman—by then in his 80s—was "the most beautiful man she had ever met." She was far from the only woman to feel that way. Eastman's star burned bright for more than half of the 20th century, as he wrote his way to fame, traveled the world, translated Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution, and ended up as one of the red faith's foremost apostates. What kind of background produces a character like Max Eastman? One that begins with parents who were both Christian ministers. Max was born in Canandaigua, New York, in 1883. His mother, Annis, was ordained in 1889, but had for years already been assisting her husband, Rev. Samuel Eastman, with his sermons. Annis was emotionally close to her children, and they were close to one another. In the case of Max and his sister Crystal, two years older than him, they might have been too close. Crystal would be the adolescent Max's ideal woman; her letters home to him from college are full of flirtatious teasing. "Max's previous biographer has suggested that Max and Crystal had an incestuous relationship," Irmscher notes. He doesn't leap to that conclusion himself, saying the mix of religious passion, motherly doting, and sibling affection that swirled around Eastman defies easy interpretation. In any event, Eastman seems not to have had much specifically sexual confidence or experience until after he graduated from Williams College. Appropriately enough, his first step toward becoming a public intellectual was made possible by one of his sister's boyfriends, who happened to teach at Columbia University. He got Max a job as a teaching assistant in the philosophy and psychology department, where Max fell into John Dewey's orbit. Crystal also drew her brother into progressive politics; soon he was a leading speaker in the Men's League for Women's Suffrage. The Columbia connection—Eastman was sometimes erroneously identified in the press as a professor—and his success as a speaker eased his path to becoming a noted writer too, and not just on suffrage. He published as a poet as well. And in 1913, he was offered the editorship of a small socialist magazine, The Masses, which under Max would become, as Irmscher puts it, "the only artsy socialist magazine the United States had ever had." Max's plan was "to make The Masses a popular Socialist magazine—a magazine of pictures and lively writing" rather than a vehicle for dogma. The magazine made Max an outspoken champion of left-wing causes, including labor and, most fatefully, opposition to World War I. Max's editorial criticisms of the war earned the magazine harassment from Woodrow Wilson's government, which ultimately forced The Masses to close. In its place, Max and Crystal launched a new magazine, the Liberator. As the conflict drew to a close, it endorsed the war aims "outlined by the Russian people and expounded by President Wilson." Max and several former colleagues from The Masses were put on trial for having attempted to "unlawfully and willfully obstruct the recruiting and enlistment service of the United States." Two hung juries saved Max from a prison sentence. Max's love life at this point was a contrast with the intense familial emotional engagement of his youth. He had married the feminist activist and poet Ida Rauh in 1911 and had a son with her. But he neglected both. At first he didn't even tell his parents or Crystal that he had wed. Ida cared for their child at the home they owned in the small town of Glenora, New York, while [...]



The Secret Meaning of Thanksgiving Dinner

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 13:00:00 -0500

Did you ever wonder why we eat turkey, of all things, on Thanksgiving? After all, the Pilgrims didn't. They were more into duck, goose, and shellfish. Last year, when the Reason Podcast (subscribe!) was just getting started, I interviewed Rachel Laudan, best known for the incredible book Cuisine and Empire, a fascinating history of how food and cooking have not simply shaped world events but been at the very center of them. Laudan, a visiting scholar at the University of Texas, explained that America's national meal, which only really became a thing hundreds of years after the Pilgrims suffered through their early winters, has always functioned as a way of rebuking haughty elites from England and Europe. Laudan is a real firecracker in conversation—when I asked the world-traveling cosmopolitan if there was any food she wouldn't eat, she didn't miss a beat before saying anything organic. Listen below or here for her compelling, libertarian case against supposedly sustainable farming. It's a great conversation about food, cuisine, etiquette, and so much more. Bring her figuratively to your table—she's the ultimate dinner guest! Here's the original writeup: When Thanksgiving became a national holiday back in 1863, it was a repudiation of the French aristocracy, says food historian Rachel Laudan. Europe's haute cuisine, contemporaries believed, "ruined the individual, the household, and the nation." Thus, this "simple meal...became a national celebration embracing all citizens," Laudan wrote in a 2013 Boston Globeessay. Contemporary novelist and cookbook author Sarah Josepha Hale designed the standard Thanksgiving meal as an affirmation of our (small 'r') republican virtues. Turkey was cheap to procure, pumpkin pie was easy to make, and cranberry sauce was a simple take on the fancy toppings typical in a French court. The meaning of Thanksgiving has changed over the years—thanks in part to Julia Child's successful effort to democratize French cuisine—but even today, "nobody suggests adding truffles to your turkey," Laudan says. Nick Gillespie interviewed Laudan about the meaning of Thanksgiving, why she is not a fan of "organic" food, and other aspects of culinary history, drawing on her fascinating 2013 book, Cuisine & Empire. Click below to listen to that conversation—or subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/294475553&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> The Reason Podcast is currently killing it at iTunes, where we ranked as the 160th most-popular News & Politics podcast. Take a listen to our latest episodes—an exclusive interview with FCC head Ajit Pai, who explains why repealing Net Neutrality rules is a big win for free expression and the future of the Internet; a raucous tour of the news with Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, Matt Welch, and me; Shikha Dalmia explaining how crackdowns on illegal immigrants snag innocent American citizens; and a debate between Mangu-Ward and me and the editors of the hard-left Jacobin mag—and subscribe if you like what you hear![...]



How Grocery Stores Got Good

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 06:00:00 -0500

Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, by Michael Ruhlman, Abrams Press, 307 pages, $28 Of all the stories in the busy news cycle of 2017, the one with the most meaningful long-run effects may be Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods. What this marriage means for the future of the food industry remains to be seen, but the combination of Amazon's reach and delivery skills with Whole Foods' high-quality products opens many possibilities. In Grocery, his look at the central role the grocery store has played in American life, food writer Michael Ruhlman more or less predicted the coming together of Amazon and Whole Foods. In 1988, he notes, Walmart opened its first Supercenter, enabling it to extend its skill in distribution and cost cutting to the grocery business. That same year, Whole Foods opened its first store outside of Texas, starting the process of becoming a national chain and establishing a new sort of shopping experience. "The next sea change in food retailing," Ruhlman wrote, prior to the purchase being announced, "may come from another master of distribution, Amazon." Ruhlman made his name writing about great chefs and cooking, but here he takes on the social and economic changes in the grocery business over the last century. He does so through a study of Heinen's, a mid-sized regional chain based in his hometown of Cleveland. Ruhlman uses the company's history and practices as a window on the role the grocery store has played in American culture. As recently as the 1970s, grocery stores tended to be smaller, had far less variety and quality of food, and weren't always as clean as they are now. Such changes are among the most powerful evidence we have that nearly all Americans today surpass the living standards enjoyed by even very wealthy people a generation or two ago. Growing up in an upper-middle-class Detroit suburb in the '70s, I knew nothing of avocados, kiwi fruit, or basmati rice. The closest a grocery store had to a "ready to eat" dinner was some frozen pizza that barely deserved the name, not the variety of hot, fresh food-to-go found at a typical supermarket today. When we consider what's now available at food palaces like Whole Foods or Fresh Market, or even just at Kroger, their 1970s counterparts seem closer to the Soviet experience than the modern American one. This is part of a longer trend. At the dawn of the 20th century, Ruhlman notes, the average grocery store carried about 200 products. By 1975, it had about 9,000. The number now approaches 50,000. The grocery store of my youth had 5 or 10 chip options; today, chips command an entire aisle. Walk past the dairy cases and consider the varieties of milk, cheese, and eggs, then ask someone in his 50s what his dairy options used to look like. And these new choices are available and affordable even to relatively poor Americans. Food takes up a substantially smaller portion of the average family's budget than it did in the past. The changes don't stop there. At the turn of the 20th century, most people purchased their food from a specialty store. You got your meat from the butcher, your dry goods from the general store, your dairy from someone else. Perhaps your vegetables were homegrown. The idea of a broader "grocery store," let alone a "supermarket," was still decades away. The key early player in this evolution was A&P—the Walmart of the early 20th century in terms of its size, its buying power, and its influence on its competition. A&P's innovations in inventory and management let it dramatically reduce grocery costs for a large group of consumers, much as Walmart has done; it too was vilified for outcompeting mom-and-pop stores in the process. The emergence of a true supermarket—an establishment carrying a wide range of perishable and nonperishable food under one roof—was the result of several non-food innovations of the 1920s and '30s. There was the shopping cart, which liberated clerks from[...]



Who Really Held the First Thanksgiving in the United States?

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 12:00:00 -0500

Thanksgiving is a great American tradition. As is disputing the holiday's origins. National mythos portrays the first Thanksgiving as taking place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in celebration of a bountiful harvest. History.com buys into the myth when it refers to "the original 1621 harvest meal"—although it also acknowledges that "for some scholars, the jury is still out on whether the feast at Plymouth really constituted the first Thanksgiving in the United States." As a possible contender for the first Thanksgiving on the U.S. mainland, the website cites a 1565 meal of thanks hosted by Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé in Florida. It likewise notes an event that took place "on December 4, 1619, when 38 British settlers reached a site known as Berkeley Hundred on the banks of Virginia's James River" and "read a proclamation designating the date as 'a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.' " The latter event has given rise to a long-running complaint that Virginia does not get the credit it deserves for kicking off the national holiday. Two years ago retired newspaper executive Graham Woodlief related the origin story (which included an ancestor of his) in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "It all began in the spring of 1618 after four gentlemen had been given a grant, by England's King James I, of 8,000 acres of beautiful land in Virginia on the James River. The four gentlemen were John Throckmorton, George Thorpe, John Smythe, and Richard Berkeley. They formed the Berkeley Company and needed someone to lead the expedition to the New World. "The group chose John Woodlief (and) made him a captain and the first governor of the new colony of Berkeley Hundred. Woodlief prepared for the trip and leased the good ship Margaret... "On Dec. 4, 1619, the ship arrived at its destination, Berkeley Hundred, and the men rowed ashore. Clifford Dowdey wrote in his book 'The Great Plantation': 'The men placed their personal luggage on the hard ground, gazed at the woods enclosing them and listened in complete silence. Then at a command from Captain Woodlief, the men kneeled and said a prayer of Thanksgiving to Almighty God for their safe voyage.' "They did this in accordance with the proclamation they received from the Berkeley Company in England, instructing them, upon arrival, to give thanks and to do so annually and perpetually. The first English Thanksgiving in America had just occurred." Other colonists held feasts of thanksgiving from time to time, Woodlief notes, "but they were spontaneous and one-time events." Thanksgiving at Berkeley took place every year—until 1622, that is, when the Powhatan Indians attacked the settlement and killed 347 of its inhabitants. This put a bit of a damper on things, and the settlement was abandoned. "For three centuries," Washingtonian magazine notes, "Virginia's first Thanksgiving was lost to history." That allowed the Johnny-come-lately crowd up in Plymouth to get their hooks into the national psyche and convince Americans they actually came up with the idea. Not everyone fell for it, though. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued a Thanksgiving proclamation that began, "Over three centuries ago in Plymouth, on Massachusetts Bay, the Pilgrims established the custom of gathering together each year to express their gratitude to God." Kennedy was a Yankee, and didn't know any better. But John Wicker Jr., a former state legislator from Richmond, did—and he took umbrage. He fired off a telegram (like a tweet, only slower) to the White House expressing said umbrage. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote back confessing error: "You are quite right and I can only plead an unconquerable New England bias on the part of the White House staff... I can assure you the error will not be repeated in the future." Kennedy's next Thanksgiving proclamation not only mentioned Virginia, but listed it first. Other presidents, unfortunately, have[...]



Thankful for Property Rights on Thanksgiving Day

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 00:15:00 -0500

Ready for Thanksgiving? Before you eat that turkey, I hope you think about why America has turkeys for you to eat. Most people don't know. Everyone's heard about that first Thanksgiving feast—Pilgrims and Indians sharing the harvest. We like the drawings of it we saw in schoolbooks—shared bounty. Fewer people know that before that first feast, the Pilgrims nearly starved. They almost starved because they acted the way some Bernie Sanders fans want people to act. They farmed collectively. But communal farming creates what economists call "the tragedy of the commons." Think about what happens if a bunch of ranchers hold land in common. Everyone brings cattle to graze. While that sounds nice, it also means every rancher has an incentive to bring lots of cattle to the pasture. They bring cow after cow until the pasture is overgrazed -- destroyed. For this week's YouTube video, I repeated an experiment economics teachers sometimes do to demonstrate the tragedy of the commons. I assembled a group of people, put coins on the floor in front of them and said, "I'll give you a dollar for each coin you pick up. But if you leave them down there for a minute, I'll give you two bucks per coin, and then three bucks. Each minute the coins increase in value by a dollar." If the group waited, they'd make more money. Did they wait? No. As soon as I said "Go!" everyone frantically grabbed for coins. No one wanted to wait because someone else would have gotten the money. Collective action makes people more greedy and short-sighted, not less. Then I changed the rules of the game. I divided the floor into segments, so each person had his or her own property. Then we played the game again. This time there was no coin-grabbing frenzy. Now patient people anticipated the future. "I want to reap the most benefit," said one. "[On the previous test] I wanted it now, whereas this is going up, and it's mine." Exactly. When you own property, you want to preserve it, to allow it to keep producing good things. That beneficial pattern disappears under collectivism, even if the collectivists are nice people. The Pilgrims started out sharing their land. When crops were ready to harvest, they behaved like the people in my experiment. Some Pilgrims sneaked out at night and grabbed extra food. Some picked corn before it was fully ready. The result? "By the spring," Pilgrim leader William Bradford wrote in his diary, "our food stores were used up and people grew weak and thin. Some swelled with hunger." Adding to the problem, when people share the results of your work, some don't work hard. The chance to take advantage of others' joint labor is too tempting. Teenage Pilgrims were especially likely to steal the commune's crops. Had the Pilgrims continued communal farming, this Thursday might be known as "Starvation Day" instead of Thanksgiving. Fortunately, the Pilgrims were led not by Bernie Sanders fans or other commons-loving socialists, but by Bradford, who wrote that he "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could... that they might not still thus languish in misery... After much debate [I] assigned each family a parcel of land... This had very good success, because it made every hand industrious." There's nothing like private ownership to make "every hand industrious." The Pilgrims never returned to shared planting. Owning plots of land allowed them to prosper and have feasts like the ones we'll have Thursday. Private property became the foundation for building the most prosperous nation in the history of the world, a place where people have individual rights instead of group plans forced on everyone. When an entire economy is based on collectivism, like the Soviet Union was, it eventually collapses from inefficiency and misuse of resources. So this Thanksgiving, thank private property. Every day, it protects us from the tragedy of the commons. C[...]



Brickbat: Aid and Comfort

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) A South Korean court has fined Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University, $8,900 for defaming comfort women, those women who worked at Japanese military brothels during World War II. In her book The Comfort Women of the Empire, Park suggested that some of the women may have willingly prostituted themselves and were not forced into sexual slavery and that some may have even formed emotional bonds with Japanese soldiers.




The Corporation for Public Broadcasting Turns 50

Tue, 07 Nov 2017 12:23:00 -0500

Fifty years ago this week, Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, the law that created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I've been writing about the CPB for two of its five decades; here's a sampling of those stories: • "With Friends Like These" (July 24, 1997): A paper I wrote for Cato on the ways the CPB has made independent, listener-funded, volunteer-driven community radio stations blander and less accountable to their communities. This is out of date in all sorts of ways, but the history I discuss is still relevant. And there may be some broader lessons in my explanation of a cycle built into the CPB's subsidies: The limited amount of money the state has to offer requires it to discriminate on some rational basis—if the CPB dispensed funds to every small community station in America, it would have to divide its budget so finely that no station would receive enough money to justify the corporation's existence. So the CPB strives to direct its money to the stations with the most powerful signals and the largest measured audiences and shies away from financing more than one outlet in a single market. But the CPB requirements encourage stations to grow and adopt "professional" values, putting further pressure on the CPB's budget and forcing it to further restrict the flow of money, refueling the cycle yet again. If the CPB's budget is expanding anyway—as it did during the Carter years, for example—the cycle might be slowed and the problem concealed. If the budget is contracting, as it is today, the problem only gets worse. Under any circumstances, the professionalization and expansion cycle is built into the federal subsidies; it cannot be eliminated by minor reforms or by putting a friendlier group of bureaucrats in charge. • "It Didn't Begin with Sesame Street" (October 1997): I review Ralph Engelman's book Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History. Among other things, the article discusses the birth of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; it also looks at the handful of public TV stations that existed before the CPB, when some social engineers at the Ford Foundation argued that "educational television" (as it was then known) could be a force for social uplift, "an instrument for the development of community leaders," even "a form of psychotherapy." • "Independent Airwaves" (March 2001): I interview a man with a plan to "restructure public broadcasting as an independent public trust." His group was split between people who wanted a completely independent institution and people who just wanted to rearrange how the government gives broadcasters money. • Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America (2001): The CPB isn't the only topic I cover in this book, but it's a significant part of it. • "The Way to Sesame Street" (November 2009): For Sesame Street's 40th birthday, I looked at the complicated social legacy of a show that "reflected both an antipathy to commercialism and a fascination with commercials, which served not just as a source for its parodies but as a model for its programming." We had to make some cuts to the piece to fit it into a two-page spread; I posted some of the outtakes, including the tale of the time an executive mistook Jim Henson for a member of the Weather Underground, on my personal blog. • "Radio Theater" (February 2011): Republicans have repeatedly threatened to defund the CPB. Not only do these standoffs always end with the institution still standing, but in the long run its budget keeps growing. This article takes a tour through the history of those fights, arguing that the real point of these exercises isn't to cut the broadcasters loose. It's to use the threat of cutting them loose to whip them into shape. The system was still standing after Nixon made his threat[...]



Brickbat: Susanna, Don't You Cry

Mon, 06 Nov 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The Pittsburgh Arts Commission has unanimously recommended removing a 117-year-old statue of Stephen Foster, the "Father of American Music," from a public park. The statue depicts him next to a black slave playing a banjo.




Communism Turns 100

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 00:15:00 -0400

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of one of the worst mistakes ever made: the Communist revolution in Russia. Communist regimes went on to kill about 100 million people. Most died in famines after socialist tyrants forced people to practice inefficient collective farming. Millions of others were executed in political purges. Yet when the Russian Revolution happened, people both inside and outside Russia were excited. Crowds cheered Lenin. No longer would nobles rule; no longer would capitalists exploit workers. Now the people would prosper together. British journalist Theodore Rothstein wrote, "The undivided sway of the Imperialist nightmare is at an end... (there will be) rule of the labouring classes." But you can't have government plan every aspect of people's lives and expect things to go well. Instead, you get bureaucratic planning commissions and secret police. That won't stop some Americans from celebrating Communism's anniversary. A day of anti-Trump protests is scheduled for Nov. 4, and I'm sure some protestors will wave hammer-and-sickle flags. Some will wear Che Guevara shirts. A few commentators will call the protesters "idealistic" but impractical. They shouldn't. We should call them supporters of mass murder. Lenin ordered the hanging of 100 property owners at the very start of the Revolution, saying people needed to see the deaths of "landlords, rich men, bloodsuckers." Mass murder and starvation rapidly increased the death toll after that. It wasn't exactly what philosopher Karl Marx had in mind—but it shouldn't have surprised anyone. Marx's writing is filled with comparisons of capitalists to werewolves and other predators who must be destroyed. Marx admitted that capitalism is productive but said that "capital obtains this ability only by constantly sucking in living labor as its soul, vampire-like." Even as the Russian regime killed millions, some journalists and intellectuals covered up the crimes. Stalin kept most media out, so few Americans knew that millions were starving, but New York Times writer Walter Duranty saw it first-hand. Yet he "covered up Stalin's crimes," says Tom Palmer of the Atlas Network, a group that promotes free market ideas around the world. Because Duranty wanted to support "the cause," he wrote that "report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda." Duranty "saw the truckloads of bodies," says Palmer, yet "he wrote on the front page of The New York Times how wonderful everything was." He even got a Pulitzer Prize for it. In some ways, times haven't changed that much. This year, the Times ran a series of essays commemorating the anniversary of Russian Communism, including one piece arguing that sex was better in the Soviet Union because the Revolution destroyed macho capitalist culture. At least The New York Times eventually admitted that Duranty's work was "some of the worst reporting in this newspaper," but the Pulitzer committee never withdrew its prize. Communism kills wherever it's practiced. But people still people believe. Making a video on Communism's hundredth anniversary, I interviewed Lily Tang Williams, who grew up under the regime in China. "Mao was like a god to me," she recounts. "In the morning, we were encouraged to chant and to confess to dear Chairman Mao." Under Mao, Williams nearly starved. "I was so hungry. My uncle taught me how to trap rats. But the problem is, everybody is trying to catch rats. Rats run out, too." Still, she says she was so brainwashed by Communist propaganda that she "cried my eyes out when Mao died." But then, "when I was college student, I met a U.S. exchange student... He showed me a pocket Constitution and Declaration of Independence. A light bulb came on!" For the first time, she realized, "I ha[...]



Corporations Are Not As Powerful As You Think

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 07:00:00 -0400

Concern over the power of large corporations is back in vogue. From Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) on the left to Fox News' Tucker Carlson on the right, politicians and opinion makers worry about the influence of U.S. corporate giants on politics as well as on the private lives of ordinary Americans. People are concerned about Facebook's censorship of content, Twitter's banning of controversial users, and Google's possession of staggering amounts of information about users' search histories, shopping habits, etc. As a libertarian, I say, pish-tosh! If you don't like a particular company, find an alternative provider or live without a particular service altogether. Alas, most people are not libertarians or as closely wedded to the sanctity of the contract as the latter tend to be. The good news is that corporations are not as powerful as most people think. Before I get to that, a little background is in order. Until the 19th century, most economic output came from family farms in rural areas and artisan families in towns. As such, the only serious concentration of wealth and power was in the hands of the landed aristocracy and a few wealthy bankers. The latter came from small Italian city-states or were Jewish. As such, they had little political muscle and their wealth was subjected to periodic expropriations. As with so many other things, the Industrial Revolution upended the old order. The rise of the factory and large-scale manufacturing put massive amounts of money in the hands of a new breed of men—the Industrialists. By the end of the 19th century, Western Europe and North America could boast a coterie of self-made millionaires, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Jacob Astor, Edward L. Doheny, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan. The ruling classes were caught by surprise, and it is telling that a disproportionate number of early socialists were aristocrats. Although they comprised a mere 1.7 percent of the population of the Russian Empire, 22 percent of Bolsheviks belonged to the landed gentry. And Russia was not an outlier. The French Emperor Napoleon III once worried about the Empire's prospects, quipping, "The Empress is a legitimist; Morny is an Orleanist; Prince Napoleon is a republican; I am a socialist...; only Persigny is an Imperialist—and he is mad!" As George Watson argued in his The Lost Literature of Socialism, "Socialism above all meant a horror of the new age: the age of machines and high finance. It was more than conservative. It was reactionary and nostalgic, and in the long march from status to contract it demanded a return to the familiar and time honored world of status." It was not just the wealth of the industrialists that the aristocrats envied and the loss of the nobility's relative status that the latter bemoaned. At the end of the 19th century, no one knew just how large corporations could get. Many people simply assumed that corporations would continue to grow indefinitely. Concern about the drift of the corporate behemoth toward a monopoly gave rise to the Progressive Movement in the United States—a bipartisan phenomenon as witnessed by its two leading lights, Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. Unfortunately, the Progressives have not found time to evaluate the logic of, and the empirical evidence for, their concern over corporate power in the last 100 years. And so it fell to Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute to do that for them. In a fascinating article, "Fortune 500 firms 1955 v. 2017: Only 60 remain, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity," Perry looked at the changes in the composition of the Fortune 500 firms between 1955 and 2017. According to Perry, "only 60 com[...]



The Insatiable Utopia

Sun, 29 Oct 2017 06:00:00 -0400

The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution, by Yuri Slezkine, Princeton University Press, 1,100 pages, $39.95 In February 1917, a 30-year-old Bolshevik named Valerian Osinsky wrote to his 22-year-old mistress about a coming revolution that would wipe away czarism and deliver what Christianity couldn't: the kingdom of heaven on earth. "Only in the world of insatiable utopia," he wrote, "will the simplest ethical rules become real and free from exceptions and contradictions." Twenty-one years later, he would be executed as an "enemy of the people" for his blasphemies against the Soviet Union. Stories like that abound in the Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine's 1,100-page epic, The House of Government, which chronicles the lives of elite Bolsheviks and their families from their early days of revolutionary awakening through the overthrow of the czar, the building of "the dictatorship of the proletariat," Joseph Stalin's Great Terror, and their children's loss of faith. Divided into three volumes, The House of Government isn't just history. It's art that self-consciously, and successfully, mimics Tolstoy's War and Peace and Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. By the end it's also a horror story of grotesque proportions, as the "insatiable utopia" devours its own. The Bolsheviks weren't just ideologues, Slezkine argues at the outset. They were "millenarian sectarians preparing for the apocalypse" who "managed to take over Rome long before their faith could become an inherited habit." After showing them prevail in the revolution, the book centers around the House of Government—Europe's largest apartment building, reserved for the "high priests of the Revolution." It was, Slezkine writes, "a place where revolutionaries came home and the revolution came to die." These priests of "earthly salvation" made no vow of poverty. The House of Government, which ended up costing over 30 million rubles and was built in what was known as Moscow's "Swamp," was equipped with all the latest amenities—"a kitchen with a gas stove, garbage chute, exhaust fan, and fold-away bunk for the maid," plus extra living space not afforded the typical worker. The House of Government also conveniently contained public spaces, such as a cafeteria, a movie theater, a child care center, a laundry, a bank, a library, and a gym. That wasn't the end of the luxuries they allowed themselves. Elite party members relied on chauffeurs and made full use of the aristocratic estates, or dachas, "expropriated" from the "enemies of the working class." A prince's country property became "Lenin Rest Home No. 1"; built "in the Italian style," the manor could accommodate 150 guests and included a 27-acre park and a large pond with a motorboat. The House of Government, the elite told themselves, was a transitory moment in socialism's destruction of the family—"halfway between bourgeois individualism and communist collectivism," summarizes Slezkine. Under socialism, according to the communal house theorist L.M. Sabsovich, "children will no longer be 'the property' of their parents; they will be 'the property' of the state, which will take upon itself the solution of all problems involved in child rearing." In practice, unsurprisingly, these elite Bolsheviks loved and spoiled their children. The contradictions of Bolshevism weren't just confined to the elite's way of life. Stalin's first five-year plan, which sought to industrialize the Soviet Union and establish the economic preconditions for communism, relied "on forced labor as much as it did on 'genuine enthusiasts'" of the working and peasant classes, writes Slezkine. Workers and peasants didn't want to build socialism, and so labor shortages meant that low-[...]



For Heaven's Sake, Just Release the Rest of the JFK Files

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 10:30:00 -0400

Yesterday the government was supposed to declassify its final files on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That was the deadline set by the JFK Records Act of 1992, but there was an escape hatch: The president had the power to withhold some of the documents on national security grounds. After much vacillating, Donald Trump decided at the last minute to keep some files classified. A day later, he's still vacillating. The president is "unhappy" about what happened, according to CNN: President Donald Trump wanted more of the documents related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination released. But when the final requests from government agencies hit his desk on Thursday, there wasn't enough time to go through the hundreds of records the agencies wanted to keep secret, two US officials said. As the deadline ticked away, Trump was confronted with a choice: release all of the 3,100 records without any redactions, or accept the redactions of intelligence and law enforcement agencies and release 2,800 of those documents. Trump agreed to the second option, while also requiring agencies to conduct a secondary review of the information they believed should be redacted within 180 days. But Trump was still miffed by his decision. "He was unhappy with the level of redactions," a White House official said, adding that Trump believed the agencies were "not meeting the spirit of the law." If this is actually true, it should put to rest any Trumpian fears that the "deep state" is trying to depose him. What intelligence agency would want to get rid of a president so easily manipulated? You don't need to buy any of the conspiracy theories about John F. Kennedy's death to see that this is a historically significant event that still has several open questions around it, especially with regard to Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City shortly before the shooting. And you don't need to be personally interested in the topic to be appalled that the feds are still suppressing information about an incident that took place more than half a century ago. (No, I don't buy the halfhearted excuse that the withheld files may include relatively recent documents added to the stockpile in the 1990s. Even if you think those should still be classified, they aren't all that's still classified. For example: Jefferson Morley, author of a new biography of former CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, notes that Angleton's secret Senate testimony from 1975 is among the missing material.) The deadline for the remaining documents to be reviewed is April 26, 2018. Maybe we'll see more material after that, but I'm not optimistic. If the agencies involved can drag their feet for this long, they can drag them for another six months. In the disappointed words of Gerald Posner, one of the better-known advocates of the lone-assassin theory: "They have only had 25 years to get ready."[...]