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Libertarian History/Philosophy

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

Published: Fri, 23 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2018 08:26:34 -0500


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 counter tit-for-tat to the exact same audience. It's pure concern-trolling, holding up a phony ideal of free speech then regretfully conclu[...]

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 cop knows, they are next to useless. About the only way you can get one is to tell the operator at headquarters a cop is being murdered[...]

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, he says, "are always in favor of the man who promises to get something for them without cost to them—i.e., to steal something for the[...]

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 citizens. In his defense of The Dispossessed, novelist Robert Shea said: "Orwell, who created the archetype of tyrannies that rule by for[...]

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 national security establishment, and you can see why several libertarian figures of the 1960s and '70s saw him as a potential partner. Karl Hess[...]

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, too. What is the aim of The Volokh Conspiracy, for listeners or readers of Reason who may not be fully familiar with it? Volokh: Sure.[...]

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 restraint." Principled judicial activism is the maxim that judges should refuse to defer to the people's legislatures when freedom is at stake. [...]

Stossel: Happy Thanksgiving!

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 11:00:00 -0500

Did you know that the pilgrims almost starved after they arrived at Plymouth Rock? That's because they were forced to farm "collectively." The corporation that funded the expedition said, "grow food together. Divide the harvest equally."

This is a terrible idea. It creates what economists call the "tragedy of the commons." When you share property and the results of your work, people farm until the land is barren, don't work as hard, or steal food from others.

John Stossel gathers young people from Students For Liberty and runs an experiment to demonstrate this "tragedy of the commons." It shows the solution is private property, which is what saved the pilgrims.

Governor William Bradford finally decided to "assign each family a parcel of land". Once the pilgrims had property rights, they became much more productive and brought in huge harvests -- which they were then able to share with the Indians.

So this Thanksgiving feast, don't forget to say "thanks, private property!"


Wed, 01 Nov 2017 12:00:00 -0400

(image) The most famous individualist anarchist journal of 19th century America was Liberty, edited by the fiery polemicist Benjamin Tucker. But Liberty wasn't the movement's only periodical, and anyone interested in that period of libertarian history should welcome any chance to examine the outlets edited by figures with different sensibilities. So it's good to see Georgia and Henry Replogle's journal Egoism reprinted in a hefty new book, Egoism: The First Two Volumes, 1890–1892 (Union of Egoists).

In some ways Tucker and the Replogles were peas in a pod: Each mixed the radical egoism of Max Stirner with the monetary schemes of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. But there are differences here too, with Egoism putting a stronger stress on feminism and free love. Neither Replogle was as talented a writer as Tucker, and the range of contributors here isn't as large as Tucker's stable. But if Egoism wasn't ultimately as good a publication as Liberty, it's still interesting in its own right.

Some introductory material provides historical context for the journal, including the entertaining tale of the editors' brief stay in the town of Liberal, Missouri. Founded as an alleged haven for free thought by George Walser, a man who hoped to ban both churches and saloons from his city, Liberal attracted and then repelled the Replogles, who were driven out for espousing free love. Walser later converted to spiritualism, and in time the town would host vast conventions of people hoping to speak with the dead.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Early LSD Guru

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 12:23:00 -0400

(image) One of the odder episodes in the Truman/Eisenhower days of the libertarian movement involves Gerald Heard, a mystic whose ideas took hold in the higher echelons of the Foundation for Economic Education and a now-mostly-forgotten free-market group called Spiritual Mobilization. Heard's syncretic spiritual path eventually led him to mescaline and LSD, which some of his market-loving students then tried under his guidance. In the meantime, Heard's articles graced the pages of The Freeman and Faith and Freedom, journals that were generally associated with the right wing of libertarianism but were apparently open nonetheless to a little proto–New Age thought.

Heard was also a novelist, and his corpus includes three books about "Mr. Mycroft," a retired Sherlock Holmes living incognito under his brother's name. And the first of those books, 1941's A Taste of Honey, was adapted in an ABC anthology series called The Elgin Hour, with Boris Karloff as Mr. Mycroft. I haven't read the novel, but as told here the story is a lightly comic, lightly horrific tale about a man who murders his victims with specially engineered killer bees. The plot is a bit on the thin side, but it's fun to watch Karloff, who plays up his character's eccentricities so much that at times he feels less like Sherlock Holmes than a lost incarnation of Doctor Who.

The show originally aired on February 22, 1955, but I think it makes better viewing in the week before Halloween:

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The novel was adapted again in 1966 as a movie called The Deadly Bees, this time without the Mr. Mycroft character. To see the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of that one, go here. For past Halloween installments of the Friday A/V Club, you can watch haunted-house comedies here, vintage Halloween safety films here, and a punk show at a mental hospital here. Yet more Friday A/V Club posts are here. And Gerald Heard's articles for The Freeman are here. I find them almost unreadable but your mileage may very.

Just How Much Did Nancy MacLean Get Wrong?

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 09:10:00 -0400

Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains, an error-filled screed against Nobel Prize–winning economist James Buchanan, is one of five finalists for a National Book Award. Is that honor deserved? It is worth considering, as the award's nominators did not, that nearly every reviewer with actual independent knowledge about her book's topics has pointed out a startling range of errors of citation, interpretation, narrative, and fact. (This includes my own review in the October Reason, in which I demonstrate that a central element of her historical narrative—that in the 1990s Buchanan's ideas became the secret influence behind the political machine run by billionaire Charles Koch—is based on an absurd and unsupportable reading of the only textual evidence she offers.) MacLean still refuses to engage any of her critics on points of substance. Economic historian Phil Magness, currently teaching at Berry College, has been one of MacLean's most diligent critics. In his review of her book for Modern Age, Magness explains that MacLean unambiguously presents the servicing of segregationist politicians as the raison d'être for the TJC's [Thomas Jefferson Center, which Buchanan ran] activities at the University of Virginia. She depicts Buchanan as having "taken his cues from [Virginia senator and leading segregationist] Harry Byrd and Jack Kilpatrick," the segregationist editor of the Richmond News-Leader. In that review and in a series of highly detailed posts on his blog, Magness has delved deeply into that portion of MacLean's book, and especially into her attempts to link the segregationist cause to the work Buchanan and collaborator G. Warren Nutter did pushing for school vouchers in post-Brown Virginia. As Magness notes, MacLean has a pattern of suggesting things she knows she can't prove: MacLean generally stops short of linking Buchanan and Byrd outright, and does so by necessity. There is no evidence the two ever crossed paths in any substantive way. So instead of calling Buchanan a segregationist, she simply contends that he utilized the opportunity of segregation to advance a libertarian school voucher agenda at the expense of black students. To get to Byrd, she advances historically unsupported claims of a connection between Buchanan and Byrd-allied newspaper editor James J. Kilpatrick. But even more so, she relies on Buchanan's own presumed silence on segregation to "read between the lines" of his voucher advocacy and discern a motive that is not evident from any straightforward reading. While taking MacLean's arguments apart, Magness turned up a good deal of evidence that she either missed or ignored: • As early as 1948, Buchanan was writing (as an economic analyst, not as a full-throated moralist) that racial segregation is an "inefficient" system that requires "improvement." As Magness summarized, Buchanan's analysis held that "forcing states with segregation to bear the costs of this inefficiency themselves could become an effective fiscal mechanism to incentivize integration." • The TJC hosted in 1958, and published in 1960, an explicitly anti-segregation talk by one of Buchanan's mentors, Frank Knight. (Among other things, Knight said that "Equality before the law means that there is equal opportunity for everyone to find or make his own place in society. This ideal was dishonored in the breach rather than honored in the observance for some time into the age of liberalism, notably by this country in the matter of racial discrimination.") As Magness explains, "Buchanan hosted Knight for these explicitly anti-segregationist remarks in the spring of 1958, which was also the high water mark of Sen. Harry Flood Byrd Sr.'s 'massive resistance' fight against Brown[...]

The Truth About Niger

Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Predictably, the news media spent most of last week examining words Donald Trump may or may not have spoken to the widow of an American Green Beret killed in Niger, in northwest Africa, in early October. Not only was this coverage tedious, it was largely pointless. We know Trump is a clumsy boor, and we also know that lots of people are ready to pounce on him for any sort of gaffe, real or imagined. Who cares? It's not news. But it was useful to those who wish to distract Americans from what really needs attention: the U.S. government's perpetual war. The media's efforts should have been devoted to exploring—really exploring—why Green Berets (and drones) are in Niger at all. (This is typical of the establishment media's explanation.) That subject is apparently of little interest to media companies that see themselves merely as cheerleaders for the American Empire. For them, it's all so simple: a U.S president (even one they despise) has put or left military forces in a foreign country—no justification required; therefore, those forces are serving their country; and that in turn means that if they die, they die as heroes who were protecting our way of life. End of story. Thus the establishment media see no need to present a dissenting view, say, from an analyst who would question the dogma that inserting American warriors into faraway conflicts whenever a warlord proclaims his allegiance to ISIS is in the "national interest." Patriotic media companies have no wish to expose their audiences to the idea that jihadists would be no threat to Americans who were left to mind their own business. Apparently the American people also must be shielded from anyone who might point out that the jihadist activity in Niger and neighboring Mali is directly related to the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya, which enabled al-Qaeda and other Muslim militants to overthrow the secular regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. That Obama-Clinton operation in 2011, besides producing Qaddafi's grisly murder and turning Libya into a nightmare, facilitated the transfer of weapons and fanatical guerrillas from Libya to nearby countries in the Sahel — as well as Syria. Since then the U.S. government has been helping the French to "stabilize" its former colony Mali with surveillance drones and Green Berets based in Niger. Nice work, Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. (Citizen Trump was an early advocate of U.S. intervention in Libya.) Need I remind you that the U.S./NATO regime-change operation in Libya was based on a lie? Obama later said his failure to foresee the consequences of the Libya intervention was the biggest mistake of his presidency. (For more on the unintended consequences for the Sahel, see articles here, here, and here.) So the media, which pretends to play a role in keeping Americans informed, have decided the people need not hear the truth behind the events in Niger. Instead, "reporters" and "analysts" perform their role as cheerleaders for the American Empire by declaring the dead men "heroes" and focusing on the tragedy that has befallen their families. Public scrutiny of the military operation is discouraged because it thought to detract from the Green Berets' heroism. What makes them heroes? They were killed by non-Americans in a foreign land while wearing military uniforms. That's all it takes, according to the gospel of what Andrew Bacevich calls the Church of America the Redeemer and its media choir. But are they really heroes? We can question this while feeling sorrow for the people who will never see their husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers again. Reporters and analysts who emote over alleged heroism base their claim on the [...]