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Libertarian History/Philosophy

All articles with the "Libertarian History/Philosophy" tag.

Published: Fri, 27 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2018 01:10:42 -0400


Libertarian Party Vice Chair Jokes About Shooting Up a School Board; Party's National Committee Declines to Suspend Him

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 16:30:00 -0400

Arvin Vohra, vice chair of the Libertarian Party's National Committee (LNC), prides himself on being rhetorically uncompromising in staking out the most radical and potentially outrageous outer frontiers of libertarian thought. His past comments on the age of consent (he says it isn't the government's business) and the proper moral attitude toward members of the U.S. military (he says they're hired killers) caused the party's New York gubernatorial candidate Larry Sharpe (singled out by Politico as a "rarity...a serious Libertarian candidate") to quit his position on the National Committee after it failed to suspend Vohra back in February. Since then, the rhetorical outrages have continued. In a post last month on the social network site MeWe, Vohra wrote: "Bad Idea: School Shootings. Good Idea: School Board Shootings." Vohra insists that was not a serious threat but a joke in "poor taste." But he also has tried to use it as a teaching moment over the question of when violent resistance might be justified. Vohra tries to connect the dots between the fact that the Libertarian Party says "taxation is an immoral violation of your sacred rights" and the fact that the Libertarian Party has "routinely argued that guns are not for hunting, they are for opposing government overreach." So? Well, as he wrote on Facebook, "I've routinely argued against any violence against the state, since I consider it unlikely to work. But for all the hardcore gun supporters who wear taxation is theft t-shirts: what is the level of tyranny that would be great enough to morally justify using violence in self defense?" He has "no plans to ever advocate violence against the state," but only for pragmatic reasons. "I consider it unnecessary," not wrong. "I believe that Dr. King and Gandhi have showed that violence is not needed to fight the state. I consider it unlikely to work." He absolutely believes in the right to use violence to defend yourself against state actions. Many LNC members found the seeming threat of school board shootings to violate a pledge party members take to "certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals." Vohra seems to doubt that striking at agents of the state with violence is initiating such violence, but even he wrote off the school board shooting line as a joke. At the end of March, some LNC members publicly asked Vohra to resign, which he opted not to do. Another motion to suspend Vohra was introduced on April 3, and last night it failed. The vote was 11–6 in favor of suspending him, but the party's rules require a two-thirds vote of the total body for suspension, so it fell a vote short. The motion singled Vohra out for "sustained and repeated unacceptable conduct that brings the principles of the Libertarian Party into disrepute, including making and defending a statement advocating lethal violence against state employees who are not directly threatening imminent physical harm. Such action is in violation of our membership pledge. These actions further endanger the survival of our movement and the security of all of our members without their consent." As per the announcement from LNC Secretary Alicia Mattson, the "ayes" to get rid of Vohra were Whitney Bilyeu, Sam Goldstein, Tim Hagan, Caryn Ann Harlos, Daniel Hayes, Jeffrey Hewitt, Joshua Katz, Alicia Mattson, Justin O'Donnell, William Redpath, and Elizabeth Van Horn. The "nays" were David Demarest, Jim Lark, Ed Marsh, Nicholas Sarwark, Starchild, and Vohra himself. Starchild says that Vohra's disavowal of any serious threat in the "joke" made him vote against suspension. O'Donnell stresses that he shares Vohra's anarchism but voted to suspend because Vohra "has displayed a persistent and consistent ignorance as to the impact of his statements....I do fundamentally and philosophically agree with much of what Mr Vohra says in his posts, but I also understand the need to frame such arguments in a manner that reaches people that are not already members of the party." Vohra posted on Facebook yest[...]

Steven Pinker Thinks Pope Francis Is a Problem, Nuclear Power Is a Solution, And We All Need Enlightenment Now!

Sun, 25 Mar 2018 16:35:00 -0400

"The Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing may seem obvious," writes Steven Pinker in his new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. "I wrote this book because I have come to realize that it's not." Pinker is a linguist who teaches at Harvard and is the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Blank Slate, and How the Mind Works. He's been named on the top 100 most influential intellectuals by both Time and Foreign Policy. In this wide-ranging podcast interview with Nick Gillespie, Pinker explains why he thinks Pope Francis is a problem when it comes to capitalism, nuclear energy is a solution to climate change, and why libertarians need to lighten up when it comes to regulation. He also makes the case for studying the humanities as essential to intellectual honesty and seriousness even as he attacks that "cluster of ideas, which is not the same as the humanities, but just happens to have descended over large sectors of the academic humanities: the deep hatred of the institutions of modernity, the equation of liberal democracy with fascism, the feeling that society is in an ever-worsening spiral of decline, and the lack of appreciation, I think, that the institutions of liberal democracy have made the humanities possible, made them flourish." Audio production by Ian Keyser. Go here to listen and subscribe at iTunes. Rate and review us while you're there! Click below to listen via SoundCloud. src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Reason Podcast archive here. Video version produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Mark McDaniel and Krainin. Go here to watch and get downloadable versions. Subscribe to Reason's YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. The interview has been edited for clarity. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. For an audio version, subscribe to the Reason podcast. Nick Gillespie: What comprises the Enlightenment? Steven Pinker: My point of view identifies four things: reason, science, humanism and progress. Reason being the ideal that we analyze our predicament using reason as opposed to dogma, authority, charisma, intuition, mysticism. Science being the ideal that we seek to understand the world by formulating hypotheses and testing them against reality. Humanism, that we hold out the well-being of men, women and children and other sentient creatures as the highest good, as opposed to the glory of the tribe or the race or the nation, as opposed to religious doctrine. And progress, that if we apply sympathy and reason to making people better off, we can gradually succeed. Gillespie: Why did the Enlightenment happen when it did? Pinker: Because it only happened once, we don't really know and we can't test hypotheses, but some plausible explanations are that it grew out of the scientific revolution of say the 17th century, which showed that our intuitions and the traditional view of reality could be profoundly mistaken, and that by applying reason, we can overturn our understanding of the world. Maybe the more proximate technological kickstarter was the growth of printing technology. That was the only technology that showed a huge increase in productivity prior to the Industrial Revolution. Everything else had to wait for the 19th century. Gillespie: You talk about how basically between the year 1000 and about 1800, in many places people saw very little increase in material well-being. Pinker: Yeah. Economic growth was sporadic at best. But printing technology did take off in the 18th century. Pamphlets were cheap and available, and broadsheets and books, and they got translated. They were circulated across all of the European countries as well as the colonies, so that the exchange of ideas was lubr[...]

50 Years of Reason with Robert W. Poole: Podcast

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 14:15:00 -0500

"Libertarianism" says Robert W. Poole, is "about more than just economics and politics, it really is. It's about human flourishing and what are the conditions for human beings to have satisfying, flourishing [lives]." Reason magazine was founded 50 years ago, in 1968, by Lanny Friedlander (1947-2011), who was then a student at Boston University. Nobody has been part of Reason longer than Poole—Bob to everyone who knows him. Along with philosopher Tibor Machan and attorney Manny Klausner, Poole took over financial and editorial responsibility for the publication within a few years of its founding and eventually created the nonprofit Reason Foundation that publishes the print mag, this website, and our video and audio platforms. He is internationally known for his work as a transportation policy analyst. In the newest Reason Podcast, Poole tells Nick Gillespie about his years at the helm of Reason and what we got right (privatization, deregulation, private space flight, what caused Love Canal, and more) and wrong (including the real reason for Howard Hughes' Glomar Explorer) back in the day. Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: This is the Reason Podcast and I'm your host, Nick Gillespie. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today, I am talking with Bob Poole, Robert W. Poole, Jr. He is the founding editor of Reason magazine, who took over the publication just a few years after it was originally launched and served as the editor for a good chunk of time. We're talking about Reason and our 50th anniversary. Bob has been with us longer than any single employee and he knows where all of the bodies are buried and he knows where all the gold is stashed too. Bob, thanks so much for joining the Reason podcast. Bob Poole: Glad to be here, Nick. Gillespie: One of the things we're going to be doing is talking, to kind of flesh out a history of our first 50 years, is talking with people like yourself about the early days of Reason with a particular eye towards our journalism, where we were ahead of the curve, where Reason was prescient and was talking about things that are either still in play or where we had the right idea early on and we saw that come to fruition. We'll also talk a little bit about places where we kind of muffed up, but I'm particularly excited to talk to you because you go all the way back to 1968. Can you talk a little bit about how you first ... Reason was founded or created by a guy name Lanny Friedlander, who was a student in Boston in 1968. How did you come across Reason at the first point? Poole: I, as a young libertarian, having graduated from MIT and working in my first job at Sikorsky Aircraft, I was desperate for companionship, people who understood these ideas. I discovered a little, now defunct publication called Liberal Innovator that was published in Los Angeles as a libertarian thing. It had a classified ad for Reason magazine and it sounded a little bit Randian in whatever it said and so I subscribed to it. It was like $2 for a subscription. Gillespie: That would be about $200 now right or something given fiat currency and all that. Poole: Yeah, yeah, so I actually started with issue number three, mimeographed of course that ancient technology. It was kind of sloppy looking in the mimeograph days, but Lanny wrote some trenchant prose and very scathing critiques of government boondoggles and things. I thought, 'Wo[...]

5 Great Libertarian Movies!

Fri, 02 Mar 2018 15:55:00 -0500

Forget the Oscars! Here are five great movies made over the past quarter-century that any libertarian will (must?) enjoy. The Incredibles (2004) This Pixar film directed by Brad Bird is so full of speeches extolling individualism, personal greatness, and self-fulfillment it sometimes sounds like it was scripted by Ayn Rand. Even the supervillain in The Incredibles, Syndrome, is a creature of self-invention and self-improvement. While the Incredibles are born with their powers, Syndrome is a normie who worships Mr. Incredible and is desperate to be his sidekick. When his hero dismisses young Buddy, he uses that disillusionment to fire his ambitions to create weapons and powers via innovative technology and then sell them to the highest bidder. Like an animated version of Richard Nixon, Syndrome's ambition ultimately gets the best of him, but he just may be the real hero of the movie, at least for those of us without naturally occurring superpowers. The Incredibles are returning after a 14-year hiatus, with a sequel hitting theaters in June, so we'll see them again soon. The Barbarian Invasions (2003) Québécois director Denys Arcand's brilliant sequel to The Decline of the American Empire is the single best depiction of the depredations of socialized medicine. Canada's health care system is so sclerotic that the movie's protagonist, a retired left-wing academic named Rémy, cannot even score the drugs he needs to commit suicide until his estranged son, a banker, buys them on the black market. Even more disturbing is the moment when the terminally ill Rémy and his former colleagues admit that their intellectual faddishness led them to embrace every awful "ism" of the past 30 years despite those ideas' often massive human toll. Dallas Buyers Club (2013) This based-on-a-true-story movie about a rodeo rider and a drag queen routing around the Food and Drug Administration brought home Oscars not just for its two leads, but the film's makeup artist, who reportedly worked on a budget of just $250. Set in the 1980s, Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a boozy roughneck who is given 30 days to live after being diagnosed with AIDS. Faced with a death sentence, he schools himself on a wide variety of treatments, first in Mexico and then all over the world. With the help of a cross-dressing party girl named Rayon, Woodroof skirts FDA prohibitions against importing, using, and selling unapproved drugs by creating a "buyers club," in which members pay a monthly fee and assume all risks. The depiction of official indifference to patient suffering and the bureaucratic quashing of medical freedom even for people who are certain to die is unsparing, moving, and inspirational, especially now that even Donald Trump has endorsed "right to try" legislation that would allow terminally ill patients access to non-approved medicines. Joy (2015) Jennifer Lawrence became a mega-star playing the anti-government rebel Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games movies. While there's no shortage of libertarian sentiment coursing through that series, it's actually a quieter movie starring Lawrence that fully embodies libertarian virtues of hard work, commercial innovation, and dogged entrepreneurship. In Joy, Lawrence plays real-life "Miracle Mop" inventor Joy Magano, who helped make cleaning your floors easier while making herself rich. The film is a paean to capitalism's genius at allowing self-expression and self-fulfillment. As the story begins, Magano is supporting a wide variety of family layabouts while barely making ends meet. In a dramatic scene with Bradley Cooper, who plays an executive at a home-shopping network, Joy summarizes in a few sentences what it took Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman whole books to say: You said to me that David Selznick, the son of immigrants, married Jennifer Jones, an all-American girl from Oklahoma, because in America all races and all classes can meet and make whatever opportunities they can, and that is what[...]

Assassin's Creed: Games with a Libertarian View of the World

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 14:05:00 -0500

Video games have become one of our most influential, popular, and creative forms of media. Last year, the industry generated almost $150 billion in revenue worldwide, rivaling books and films and dwarfing music.

Gamers spend over three billion hours a week in the virtual worlds of their choosing. And more so than other contemporary forms of media, video games explore the themes of freedom and personal agency, allowing players to go where they want and do what they please—as long as they're prepared to bear the consequences. Two of the three best selling video games of all time are Grand Theft Auto 5 and Minecraft. They're polar opposites in terms of violence and target audience, but both were designed to offer players the opportunity to make their own destinies.

But it's the Assassin's Creed series, published by Ubisoft, that puts the conflict between liberty and authority at the center of its plots, its characters, and the alternate history in which the games are set. Reason takes a look at the series' narrative merits, and at the titular creed.

Written and edited by Ian Keyser. Read by Andrew Heaton. Gameplay footage by Sean Keyser.

"Plague" by Kai Engel is used under CC BY 4.0.

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Wired Thinks Free Speech Has Been Tried and Failed

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 14:45:00 -0500

John Perry Barlow famously declared that cyberspace, as we used to call it, was, should be, and must remain a realm of absolute intellectual freedom. It is a bitter irony that he died the same month that Wired, which for years celebrated the liberatory power of digital culture, features a terrible and terrifying cover feature deriding "The Golden Age of Free Speech." The package's polemical point? That free speech has failed us and deserves no particular further respect in this digital, social-networked world. From the dark heart of their framing essay, Zeynep Tufekci's "It's the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech": The most noble old ideas about free speech simply don't compute in the age of social media. John Stuart Mill's notion that a "marketplace of ideas" will elevate the truth is flatly belied by the virality of fake news. And the famous American saying that "the best cure for bad speech is more speech"—a paraphrase of Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis—loses all its meaning when speech is at once mass but also nonpublic. How do you respond to what you cannot see? How can you cure the effects of "bad" speech with more speech when you have no means to target the same audience that received the original message? Mill's defenses of free expression are more complicated and subtle than the notion that a marketplace of ideas "will elevate the truth." Mill argues as well in On Liberty that grappling with error is all that allows a human mind to remain intellectually active and acute, and that this is desirable in itself. "Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think," Mill wrote. The search for truth has a value larger than merely getting people to believe what's true. The theory and philosophy of free expression should not be myopically focused on "the truth." Plenty of expression—some might say the most important expression—are creative fictions that do not express facts about reality, empirical or moral. We must also defend tenaciously the ability to think and express even things we do not truly think and feel and believe, for the sake of exploration and play (even though such expression can undoubtedly aggravate and anger people). But even if you think ending up at the truth is all that matters—if you are willing to admit you believe truth spoken through broken teeth from the hobnailed boot of authority rings as sweetly as truth spoken through sincere belief earned through free investigation—Mill argued that your ability to grasp the truth of what you "believe" is weak indeed if never honed against the best arguments for opposite ideas. Humanity, he wrote, "ought to have a rational assurance that all objections have been satisfactorily answered, and how are they to be answered if that which requires to be answered is not spoken?" (Jonathan Rauch explained along Mill's lines how gay acceptance and rights were in fact furthered by the fact that people are legally allowed to spew idiotic prejudices and false beliefs about homosexuality, in his classic 2013 Atlantic article "The Case for Hate Speech.") Tufekci doubts the value of free expression when one cannot guarantee that those striving to counter falsehoods can reach "the same audience that received the original message," a difficult or impossible task when that first communication was "nonpublic." This is supposed to be a freshly sinister aspect of the digital age. Yet never in the history of the debate over free expression was any such guarantee possible. Nor was it ever thought necessary by people who supported (or opposed!) free speech. Tufekci writes as if she is unfamiliar with, say, targeted political direct mail, which has long allowed partisans to gin up beliefs that the "other side" might not even have known existed, much less be able to co[...]

Farewell to Nicholas von Hoffman, the Newsman Who Got Fired for Comparing Nixon to a Dead Mouse

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 09:30:00 -0500

Nicholas von Hoffman died yesterday. He was 88 years old and he wasn't that famous anymore, but he used to be all over the media: He had a Washington Post column that was syndicated across the country, he recorded radio commentaries for the CBS show Spectrum, and he had a recurring gig doing point/counterpoint segments for 60 Minutes, speaking for the left while James Kilpatrick represented the right. He was fired from that last job after the night he compared Richard Nixon to a dead mouse on a kitchen floor. "The question," he said of the president, "is who is going to pick it up by the tail and drop it in the trash. At this point it makes no difference whether he resigns, thereby depositing himself in a sanitary container, or whether Congress scoops him up in the dustpan of impeachment. But as an urgent national health measure, we've got to get that decomposing political corpse out of the White House." I'm trying to think of the last time von Hoffman had a big moment of public notoriety. It was probably in 2001, when Andrew Sullivan started handing out a sarcastic "Von Hoffman Award" for "stunningly wrong political, social and cultural predictions." The columnist had earned the honor by writing skeptically about the then-young war in Afghanistan—he had said the U.S. was "fighting blind" and "distracted by gusts of wishful thinking." What a nut, right? After a few years, an abashed Sullivan confessed that von Hoffman had had a point, and he renamed the prize for Dick Morris. Von Hoffman got his start as an activist, not a journalist, and in the '50s he was a lieutenant of sorts to the Chicago-based organizer Saul Alinsky. (My review of Radical, von Hoffman's memoir of his Alinsky days, is here.) From there he drifted into reporting, filing lively dispatches for the Chicago Daily News and then The Washington Post. He wrote sympathetically about the counterculture and the civil rights movement, unsympathetically about Nixon and the Vietnam War; he developed a reputation as the Post's in-house New Leftist. And that he was, more or less. But like the more anarchistic New Left types—and like his old boss Alinsky—von Hoffman didn't have much faith in big government. By the early 1970s, when he had his newspaper column and his 60 Minutes job, that distrust sometimes led him to unexpected positions. Take the time he devoted a column to the notion that the John Birch Society offers a useful "corrective to our thinking." (When they denounce Nixon or the Fed, he wrote, they start "talking about the uses of power, money and politics in ways we can learn from.") He still kept the Birchers at arm's length, naturally. But he didn't add any caveats in 1971 when he wrote a piece praising the foreign policy views of the isolationist Ohio senator Robert Taft. After quoting extensively from a speech the late Republican had given two decades earlier, von Hoffman announced that Taft was "right on every question all the way from inflation to the terrible demoralization of troops." Von Hoffman also wrote several '70s articles applauding the ideas of Louis Kelso, an apostle of employee ownership. That might sound more like what you'd expect from a New Left writer—worker power!—except that both Kelso and von Hoffman presented the proposal not as an alternative to capitalism but as a more radical form of it. When Henry Fairlie read some of those dispatches, he threw up his hands and complained that von Hoffman "parades himself as a radical" but wants "to make everyone a capitalist." And then there was his column about the libertarian economist Murray Rothbard. It didn't endorse the full ancap program, but it did embrace the most radical part of it. "One of Rothbard's best, new ideas is to shut down the police departments of America," he enthused. As von Hoffman expounded on this notion, he started to sound like an anarchist Mike Royko: "As almost anybody who's tried to call a[...]

Stossel: How Free Are You?

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 10:30:00 -0500

Are you living in the freest country? Not if you live in the United States.

The new "Human Freedom Index" by the Fraser and Cato Institutes ranks countries by both economic freedom–like freedom to trade, amount of regulations, and tax levels–and personal freedom–such as women's rights and religious freedom.

America rose seven spots in the latest report, to number 17. But it's still far from where it once was.

Report co-author Ian Vasquez tells John Stossel that America "used to be a two, three, or four. And then government started to grow. It started to spend more." President Bush signed the Wall Street bailouts and increased regulations. Obama continued increasing regulations and upped America's top tax rate.

Stossel says a good ranking matters, not just because it's good to be free, but because freedom allows people to prosper.

The countries near the top of the rankings, like Switzerland and Hong Kong, tend to have less government. Stossel says places with less government are better places to live.

The top of the list:
Hong Kong
New Zealand

The bottom:

You can see the entire ranking here.

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Is Selfishness a Virtue? A Debate With Yaron Brook and Gene Epstein.

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 10:27:00 -0500

"We don't have to endorse Gordon Gekko's view that greed is good anymore than we believe that selfishness is a virtue," says Gene Epstein, former economics editor at Barron's.

"The Christian morality of sacrifice and altruism is wrong," says Yaron Brook, executive chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute.

On January 16, 2018, Brook argued the affirmative in a debate with Epstein over whether selfishness is a virtue. It was an Oxford-style contest, in which the audience votes on the proposition before and after the event, and the side that sways the most people wins. Epstein was victorious, picking up 15.38 percent of the undecideds vs. 9.89 percent for Yaron Brook. Judge Andrew Napolitano, senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel, moderated.

The event was held by The Soho Forum, Reason Foundation's debate series in New York City. Held every month at the SubCulture Theater in the East Village, it also serves as a gathering place for New York's libertarian community, with free food and a cash bar. Epstein is also the Soho Forum's director and usually moderates.

On February 12, the Soho Forum will host a debate over whether the sex offender registry should be abolished, featuring Emily Horowitz, a sociologist at St. Francis College and author of Protecting Our Kids?: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us (2015), and Marci Hamilton, CEO and academic director at CHILD USA and a resident senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Get tickets ($18, or $10 for students) here.

Reason will also be live streaming the debate on our Facebook page, and the audience at home can both participate in the voting and submit questions to be read aloud at the event.

Video shot and edited by Kevin Alexander. Tease by Todd Krainin.

"Drum Solo For Hospital Ghost" by Lucas Perný used under a Creative Commons license.

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'My Plan Is to Let People Do Whatever They Please'

Sun, 28 Jan 2018 06:00:00 -0500

A Saturnalia of Bunk: Selections from the Free Lance, 1911–1915, by H.L. Mencken, edited by S.T. Joshi, Ohio University Press, 259 pages, $49.95 Oh, that H.L. Mencken were alive today! You don't hear that wistful resurrectionary sentiment voiced much anymore. A modern newspaper columnist writing in Mencken's gleeful style, with its joyful savagery, its jocose sesquipedalianism, its sheer delight in the American language, would be met with astonished horror on the order of Henry James watching a Sam Kinison video or Robby Mook meeting a man who owns a pickup truck. (I should warn you that one cannot write about Mencken without aping him, however clumsily.) The longtime Baltimore Evening Sun columnist, American Mercury editor, and rumbustiously splenetic critic, who graced this orb from 1880 to 1956, would not be published in any major newspaper today. The reasons he foresaw over a century ago, when he decried the "cheap bullying and cheaper moralizing" whose purpose was the extirpation, the annihilation, of anything resembling a robust exchange of ideas. Two beliefs puffed up the righteous censor, according to Mencken: first, "that any man who dissents from the prevailing platitudes is a hireling of the devil," and second, "that he should be silenced and destroyed forthwith. Down with free speech; up with the uplift!" Plus ça change and all that. S.T. Joshi, who has chosen his primary scholarly interests—Mencken, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ambrose Bierce—with a fine eye for readability over reputation, has assembled a selection of Mencken's Evening Sun "Free Lance" columns of 1911–1915 into a book called A Saturnalia of Bunk and contributed an informative introduction to it. Henry Louis Mencken churned out six of these 1,200-word meringues every week, a vertiginous pace that makes Joyce Carol Oates look like Harper Lee. Logorrheic bloggers aside, does anyone really have that much to say about the controversies of the day? Mencken once nicked Bierce for reprinting his early work, which was "filled with epigrams against frauds long dead and forgotten, and echoes of old and puerile newspaper controversies." Is A Saturnalia of Bunk similarly irrelevant? Happily, no. Although Mencken's fusillades against, say, blue laws have grown fusty, his rousing conclusions—"the militant moralist tries to steal liberty and self-respect, and the man who has lost both is a man who has lost everything that separates a civilized freeman from a convict in a chain-gang"—have lost none of their punch. These columns, composed while their author was on the shy side of middle age, afford, says Joshi, "a nearly complete view of Mencken's political, religious, social, and cultural philosophy as it had evolved up to this point"—and this philosophy would largely remain constant for the rest of his rooted life. (Mencken, a dyed-in-the-wool third-generation Baltimorean, a sardonic citizen of his place, made his home in the house in which he grew up.) Mencken is in these columns and was until his death a libertarian, with the usual idiosyncratic departures from dogma of any red-blooded man. He puts it plainly: "My plan is to let people do whatever they please, so long as they do not invade the right and freedom of other persons to do the same." He is, within the boundaries of his time and place, a free speech absolutist. Prohibitionists of all stripes—"snouters" and "absurd fanatics" who would ban alcohol, tobacco, prostitution, vivisection, and Sunday baseball—are pilloried with an outrage that is always anchored in an amused appreciation of the human condition, and never in hatred. No one defends fallen women, the "ladies of vermilion," with quite as much verve as Henry Mencken. He is contemptuous of democracy, viewing it, Scrooge-like, as a poor excuse to pick another man's pocket. The common people,[...]

R.I.P. Ursula K. Le Guin, Author of One of the Greatest Novels About Freedom Ever Written

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 16:40:00 -0500

One of the most important purposes of science fiction, fantasy, and other imaginative fiction is to examine what is possible for human societies. Ursula K. Le Guin, who died this week at 88, not only wrote beautifully, but she took her duty to the imagination very seriously. When Le Guin entered the field, novels that imagined statelessness as anything other than bloody chaos were few and far between—it was Heinlein or bust. Le Guin's psychologically complex characters and gorgeous depictions of social and political dynamics influenced many science fiction writers, from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood. Libertarians have another reason to love her. In one of her most famous novels, 1974's The Dispossessed, a solar system contains two habitable bodies. On the larger planet, Urras, is a state capitalist society. On its smaller moon, Anarres, is a communalist anarchist society made up of the great-grandchildren of revolutionaries from the home planet. Le Guin examines both societies through the eyes of an anarchist physicist named Shevek. The book was beautiful, brilliant, and personally liberating—I encountered it when it was published in 1974, right around the same time I became involved with libertarianism—and so in 1983 I nominated it for the Libertarian Futurist Society's Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, a prize that honors libertarian-themed fiction. Never in the ongoing history of that award has there been such a battle. Many members of the Libertarian Futurist Society were up at arms. People threatened to quit the group if the book won. Although everyone admired the book as literature, the fact that the society on Anarres was communalist made the book suspect. It was called "socialist propaganda," and it was deemed not at all what we were supposed to be advocating. "Give it the Lenin Prize instead," said one member. Other members, some of them past winners of the award, defended the novel with passion and grace. We nominated it year after year. Le Guin herself got involved a little, thanking us for the nominations but telling me in a private letter that she expected a blue moon and pigs to fly before she would expect to win. I didn't know what a blue moon was at the time, and I didn't know that they sometimes occur. In the Libertarian Futurist Society's newsletter, which I edited, I replied to the membership: "It should be repeated, a million times if necessary, that the essence of libertarianism...must be freedom of choice. Although most libertarians may believe that the best society is technologically advanced, economically laissez-faire, with private property cemented into the cornerstone of every community, other free people might choose communalism, back-to-the-bushes hermitism, or any of a thousand cultures, religions, or eccentricities possible to humanity and still remain within a libertarian framework, as long as those societies eschew the initiation of violence and respect the right of others to choose their own way of life." But the dissenting libertarians were not so easily convinced. From 1983 on, we argued back and forth every time one of us nominated the book. The arguments were good ones on both sides. Socialist countries generally do devolve into fascist and repressive societies, held together with the bindings of terror. And they don't take 400 years to do so. What made Anarres different was that it was self-isolated, small, and committed to nonviolence and personal freedom. This isolation, Le Guin admitted later, might be one of the few ways that such a society could endure. Even then, she shows that the Anarresti were becoming ossified. Although individual behaviors were tolerated in many ways (one man hoarded blankets and broken equipment like a throwback "propertarian"), the society used censure and guilt to control its [...]

In Memoriam: Marcus Raskin, Radical and Decentralist

Tue, 02 Jan 2018 10:33:00 -0500

When Marcus Raskin died over the Christmas holidays, his obituaries may have made him sound like a fairly typical left-liberal figure. He had a job in the Kennedy administration. He co-founded the Institute for Policy Studies, described in his New York Times obit as "a progressive think tank." He was active in the '60s antiwar movement, and his son is a Democratic congressman. He clearly was more militant than your average liberal: That Times piece mentions that he played a part in the leak of the Pentagon Papers and that he went on trial for "conspiracy to counsel young men to violate the draft laws." But there's nothing there to suggest his condemnations of state power ever went further than that portion of the state that was waging an especially stupid war in Vietnam and drafting American kids to die there. But in the '60s and '70s at least (I'm less familiar with his later work) he staked out a much more anti-authoritarian position than that. If you pick up Raskin's 1974 book Notes on the Old System, you'll find that it's largely an attack on presidential power—not just in the hands of Richard Nixon, but in the hands of the progressives who built up the imperial presidency before Nixon entered the White House: Since 1933, the United States has been in a declared state of national emergency and crisis. During this period Congress delegated, through 580 code sections, discretionary authority to the president "which taken all together, confer the power to rule this country without reference to normal constitutonal processes."...Under the powers delegated by these statutes, the President may seize properties, mobilize production, seize commodities, institute martial law, seize control of all transportation and communications, regulate private capital, restrict travel, and—in a host of particular and peculiar ways—control the activities of all American citizens. His days butting heads with hawks and technocrats in the Kennedy administration had radicalized him: Raskin became a part of the New Left revolt against liberalism. And unlike, say, the Weathermen, his wing of the movement mostly stuck to revolting against the right things: the imperial presidency, the national security state, the partnership between the government and the great corporations ("It has been a cardinal principle," he wrote, "that big business helps big government and vice versa"), and a host of measures that concentrated power in Washington, D.C. "From the end of the Second World War," he complained in Notes, "liberals provided the music for the corporations and asserted the need for a strong national leader who would operate benevolently through rhetoric and the bureaucracy for the common good of the System. His powers would verge on the dictatorial." He didn't just reject that approach to power; he rejected a lot of its fruits too. "Lyndon Johnson was a master at managing bills through the Senate which were thought of as reforms, but whose fine print left the major institutional forces of the society untouched, or even greatly reinforced. Appropriations for Great Society programs seemed designed to help the wretched but turned out in practice to meet the needs of the 'helpers,' the bureaucracy and the middle class and the rich." Raskin was a man of the left: He wanted society to challenge corporate capitalism and to assure minimum levels of well-being. But not necessarily through the federal government. Notes instead calls for a decentralized participatory democracy; the book doesn't get into details, but you can guess the general outline of what the author wanted from the fact that he takes to quoting the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin. Couple that distrust of centralized power with Raskin's sharp critiques of his old colleagues in the nationa[...]

Oldest Libertarian Organization, FEE, Looking for Publisher/Editorial Director

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 20:05:00 -0500

(image) The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) is looking for someone to run its publications and website. From the job description:

FEE's Publisher is responsible for the strategic and operational success of FEE's content across all print and digital platforms, including, social media, third-party websites, ebooks, and print. This role requires an editorial visionary with a digital savvy, business focus. The Publisher supervises the Editorial staff and partners with the Marketing and Development (fundraising) departments to dramatically increase readership of and engagement with Furthermore, this role works with FEE leadership to create a FEE brand that will deliver a content experience attractive to FEE customers, partners, supporters, and advertisers. The role also communicates the business goals of the organization to the editors and writers, helping to plan editorial calendars and develop new content products. The Publisher reports to the COO.

Most of this is known to libertarians, but some background on the group founded by Leonard Read, right after World War II:

Established in 1946, FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education) is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to make the ideas of a free society–including free markets, civil society, and individual rights–familiar and credible to the rising generation (14-26 year-olds). Over the past three years, FEE has installed the latest digital marketing capabilities and assembled an editorial team to become the leading voice for ideas and commentary on the humane values and ethical principles of a free society. attracts an average of over 1 million monthly sessions, making it one of the top 5,000 websites in the U.S. and one of the top 21,000 websites in the world. FEE is well-positioned for continued growth with repeatable annual revenues having increased 79% since 2015.

The whole job listing is online here.

Everything You Wanted To Know About The Volokh Conspiracy: Podcast

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:05:00 -0500

"Intellectual honesty isn't just refraining from lying," says UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh in the newest Reason Podcast. "It's mentioning the arguments against you and explaining why you think that they're mistaken, as opposed to just omitting them, hoping that the audience isn't going to catch on." Volokh is the founder of The Volokh Conspiracy, "one of the most widely read legal blogs in the United States" [which] "has more influence in the field—and more direct impact—than most law reviews." The blog is written by mostly libertarian and libertarian-leaning law professors and court watchers, so we're excited as hell at Reason to now be hosting the Volokh Conspiracy on our website. It will remain editorially independent from Reason, though all of our readers will find much of interest and value in its content, which ranges from in-depth yet accessible glosses on the most important legal cases of the moment to disquisitions on pop culture. Volokh explained to me a few weeks ago that the blog began chafing under its home at The Washington Post partly because of that publication's paywall and partly because the newspaper would censor curse words even when they appeared in court documents that Volokh conspiracists were analyzing. When Volokh suggested would be a good home for the blog, I instantly agreed, only adding that we would insist on publishing curse words even when they weren't strictly necessary. In a wide-ranging interview about The Volokh Conspiracy, Volokh discussed the site's aims, why he thinks the government is sometimes right to force business owners to serve customers they don't like, and his high opinion (so far) of Donald Trump's appointments to the federal judiciary. In an age of deep polarization and intellectually mendacious debates, the Volokh Conspiracy remains a straight shooter when it comes to pursuing what its contributors see as the truth. "I hope even our libertarian readers appreciate that," says Volokh, "because then they know that when we do take a view that they agree with more, that's because we really, sincerely believe it and think it's the best argument, and sometimes perhaps they see that there are some points in which conservatives, or even liberals or moderates, might be more correct than the libertarian orthodoxy." Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript. Please check any quotes against audio to ensure accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Today, we're talking with Eugene Volokh. He's a UCLA law professor and perhaps better known as the proprietor of The Volokh Conspiracy, a long-running legal group blog that I am excited to announce is coming to After being its own site and then being perched at The Washington Post for a long time, it is now coming to Eugene, thanks so much for talking to us. Eugene Volokh: Thank you very much for talking to me. Gillespie: Let's talk about The Volokh Conspiracy, which is obviously the premier group legal blog on the planet, I'm willing to say. There are, I guess, certain parts of Africa and some of the 'Stan' countries, I'm not familiar with their law blogs, but I'm pretty sure that The Volokh Conspiracy is still big there[...]

Libertarianism Has Nothing to Offer Populist Authoritarians

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 08:00:00 -0500

I am mystified by the claim that the long-standing libertarian critique of democracy furnishes aid and comfort to conservatives who display a taste for populist authoritarianism. Let me say at the outset that the libertarian critique has nothing to offer those who would impose legal or social disabilities on racial, ethnic, religious, and other minorities. If white supremacists see something helpful here, they are mere opportunists who would find something helpful to their cause in anything they looked at. Right off the top we may ask where is this right-wing antipathy to democracy. On the contrary, I see a right-wing embrace of democracy even in the age of Trump. (Rush Limbaugh has long called himself the "doctor of democracy.") Which branch of government have conservatives of all stripes railed against most vigorously for decades? It's the judiciary, especially the U.S. Supreme Court. And what have the courts done to make conservatives so angry? They have invalidated actions of legislators—the supposed elected representatives of the people. Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia were not the first conservatives to inveigh against unelected judges for vetoing the will of the people as expressed through the democratic branches of government. Bork, whose defeat at the hands of Democrats as Ronald Reagan's nominee for the Supreme Court, energized conservatives with his articulate defense of—wait for it— majoritarianism. Libertarians opposed him for that reason. I once heard Scalia say his job was not to strike down legislative acts that were unconstitutional, just those that were "really unconstitutional." (I did not add the emphasis.) (We note here in passing that public choice analysis demonstrates that majority rule is in fact a chimera because special interests, as a result of collective-action problems among other things, are better positioned than the unorganized masses to achieve decisive clout over policy-making. Moreover, representative government was devised as a scam to defuse public opposition to what their rulers were doing.) By pointing all this out, I do not deny the authoritarian element on the right, which Trump has brought to the forefront. There's an unappreciated connection among democracy, populism, and authoritarianism, which Friedrich Hayek noted in The Road to Serfdom. Democracy is inevitably slow and messy; it can bog down in endless debate and factionalism. Then, under certain circumstances, it can produce a strongman who condemns the dithering and promises swift action to carry out the "will of the people." In contrast to conservatives, so-called liberal Democrats typically applaud court interference with legislatures, including Congress. (Remember, among others, Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade.) So who are the democrats and who are the anti-democrats? Are libertarians responsible for the Democratic Party's support for judges who strike down democratically enacted laws? To be sure, both "liberals" and conservatives are opportunists. They support judicial activism when it suits their agendas and oppose it when it does not. And, as Ilya Somin notes, each side tries to keep the other side's supporters from expressing themselves democratically, for example, through gerrymandering. But neither has been influenced by the libertarian critique of democracy. Still, it is conservatives who make opposition to the courts their signature issue—to the point of being willing to elect any Republican president on the grounds that judicial appointments matter above all else. It is libertarians (such as Randy Barnett) who have consistently espoused "principled judicial activism" over the conservatives' beloved "judicial restrai[...]