I'll be speaking at the NYU Federalist Society on April 9 about The Conscience of The Constitution, and on the same subject on April 15, I'll be speaking to the Silicon Valley Republican Women in San Jose, California. On May 19, I'll be speaking to the Rossmoor Republican Club in Rossmoor, California.
Also, in September, I'll be speaking at the Cato Institute's annual Constitution Day Conference.
Robert Tracinski has some thoughts on why leftists get so mad and so personal in political disagreements. Although I think he gives conservatives a tad more credit than they deserve, I generally agree with his points. But I think it's not just that their hoped-for Revolution depends on other people--it's that their whole reality depends on other people. They think that the evil in the world is the result of social structures (everything in the world is the result of social structures) that are ultimately within our control if only we'll exercise sufficient will power. Yes we can! sounds inspiring, only until it turns into Why won't you?! And it always does.
For example, crime or discrimination are the result, for the leftist, of institutions, not spontaneous orders, and therefore are caused by somebody's sin. If you don't act to change things, therefore, you're part of the problem. Poverty? We can cure it by raising the minimum wage. Because poverty is caused by greedy people being stingy. And if you oppose us, you're helping cause poverty!
Yet in reality, many of these problems, including poverty, are not caused by design, but are the consequences of nature or spontaneous orders. If you think the laws of economics are not natural laws but the result of human consciousness, then, you're unable to distinguish between those things that can be cured by conscious acts, and those that can't. And this, in turn, affects your thinking about justice. It leads you to think natural things can be unjust--that inequality is per se unjust. If you think that way, you'll soon think you live in a world that is absolutely saturated, through and through, with injustice and unjust people who are basically only making things worse all the time. How could you not go through life furious with indignation?
If you're ignorant about economics, for example, and don't know how prices work as an informational system in a spontaneous order, then you'll think that the reason things are expensive is just because greedy people put big price tags on their stuff. If they weren't greedy, they'd charge less. And that greed makes people poor! It's all the result of evil people doing evil things. If you're ignorant about socio-biology (or just refuse to believe it) then you think the reason women are on average less likely to occupy management positions and earn the same as men is because of evil sexist corporate managers making anti-women choices. If you're ignorant about justice and think inequality or unfairness are the same thing as injustice, then you're going to think that nature itself is unjust, since nature distributes her gifts unequally. If you go through life believing that reality is ultimately about other people instead of being ultimately about your interaction with nature, then you're going to think all the bad stuff is ultimately caused by other people, and that's going to make you hate other people, even while you profess to love humanity in the abstract.
Left political thinking is, largely, ultimately a conspiracy theory. The institution of private property, for example, was decided by exploitative elitist a as a tool for exploiting the workers and monopolizing the social surplus. The rest of capitalism flows from a consciousness rooted in this greedy design, and devoted to perpetuating it. People either know this and are consciously aiding in it, or they're dupes who need to be educated and mobilized. Well, if you think politics is ultimately a conspiracy of the evil Koch Brothers against the People's True Path to equality, then naturally you're going to be angry.
Obviously this doesn't mean that leftists are wrong to think there are a lot of injustices in the world, or that injustices are often caused by evil choices or failure to act. Everyone rightly recognizes that there's plenty of bad stuff out there we could do more to fix. But this basic leftist premise--what Rand called "social metaphysics" or "second-handedness"--this idea that reality is ultimately about people's acts, not about nature--is what makes the difference. It's the reason, ultimately, for the long leftist tradition of exhortation for revolution--as opposed to the right, which typically focuses on the bourgeois virtues of going out and getting a job and pursuing happiness. As Martin Malia writes, there really is no such thing as socialism to compare with capitalism. There's just capitalism versus some vague anti-property rights, anti-free exchange abstraction of the ideal. Your goal as a leftist, then, is ultimately the transformation of all of actual society into something equal and fair, but since this is impossible and even meaningless, it's a perpetual exercise in futility. The leftist, understandably given his basic assumptions, assumes that this failure is caused by lack of faith. Yes we can! so Why haven't we?! Because we're evil, that's why.
As today is Greek Independence Day, a quotation from Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimmage, originally addressed to the Greeks, in whose independence struggle Byron himself was killed:
Fair Greece! sad relic of departed worth!
Immortal, though no more; though fallen, great!
Who now shall lead thy scattered children forth,
And long accustomed bondage uncreate?
Not such thy sons who whilome did await,
The hopeless warriors of a willing doom,
In bleak Thermopylae's sepulchral strait—
Oh, who that gallant spirit shall resume,
Leap from Eurotas' banks, and call thee from the tomb?
Spirit of Freedom! when on Phyle's brow
Thou sat'st with Thrasybulus and his train,
Couldst thou forbode the dismal hour which now
Dims the green beauties of thine Attic plain?
Not thirty tyrants now enforce the chain,
But every carle can lord it o'er thy land;
Nor rise thy sons, but idly rail in vain,
Trembling beneath the scourge of Turkish hand,
From birth till death enslaved; in word, in deed, unmanned.
In all save form alone, how changed! and who
That marks the fire still sparkling in each eye,
Who would but deem their bosom burned anew
With thy unquenched beam, lost Liberty!
And many dream withal the hour is nigh
That gives them back their fathers' heritage:
For foreign arms and aid they fondly sigh,
Nor solely dare encounter hostile rage,
Or tear their name defiled from Slavery's mournful page.
Hereditary bondsmen! know ye not
Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?
By their right arms the conquest must be wrought?
Will Gaul or Muscovite redress ye? No!
True, they may lay your proud despoilers low,
But not for you will Freedom's altars flame.
Shades of the Helots! triumph o'er your foe:
Greece! change thy lords, thy state is still the same;
Thy glorious day is o'er, but not thy years of shame.
The city won for Allah from the Giaour,
The Giaour from Othman's race again may wrest;
And the Serai's impenetrable tower
Receive the fiery Frank, her former guest;
Or Wahab's rebel brood, who dared divest
The Prophet's tomb of all its pious spoil,
May wind their path of blood along the West;
But ne'er will Freedom seek this fated soil,
But slave succeed to slave through years of endless toil.
Surprisingly timely today. Incidentally, Frederick Douglass used the line "Hereditary bondsmen! know ye not / Who would be free themselves must strike the blow?" as his personal motto all his life.
I'll be on air with A&G tomorrow at 7 Pacific to discuss some interesting Supreme Court arguments this week, including the case about whether the states can restrict what organizations may put their symbols on license plates.
Update: If you missed it, you can listen here.
The Mercatus Center has published my paper on Competitor’s Veto laws—laws that force you to get permission from your own competition before you’re allowed to start a business—and how the federal government could protect people from such violations of their constitutional right to earn a living. My paper describes in detail the evidence unearthed in our recent lawsuits against Kentucky and Missouri on behalf of entrepreneurs who were unfairly denied their right to start businesses, because government officials thought there was no need for more competition.
These Competitor’s Veto laws are on the books in most states, sorry to say. Yet although economists have written at length about the economic theory involved, and have discussed the effects these laws have on consumers (they raise the cost of living by blocking free competition), it appears that nobody’s ever provided empirical research on how these laws work to block would-be business owners from the marketplace. The evidence we unearthed in litigation shows that—just as public choice theory predicts—they work exclusively to protect established businesses with zero benefits for the general public.
In the conclusion, I offer three options for federal reform. First, civil rights legislation expressly targeted at protecting economic liberty against state interference. Second, spending clause legislation that would condition federal grants for job training and education programs on the states reining in their abusive licensing laws, and third, legislation to make it easier for the FTC to bring antitrust cases against state licensing boards, as in the recent Supreme Court decision, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC.
(Cross-posted at PLF Liberty Blog)
The late Robert Bork was the guru of the conservative theory of “judicial restraint.” He wasn’t its originator; that theory traces back to the Progressive era. But it was Bork who taught it to conservatives and became the leading spokesman for the idea that “judicial activism” was a major structural problem of the liberal political machine. But he did not merely argue that courts were doing something unduly extreme. Rather, in his view, the very institution of judicial review was a usurpation. In The Tempting of America, he argued that Marbury v. Madison, often mistakenly called the origin of the courts’ power to declare laws unconstitutional, was wrongly decided, and that courts should not have this power at all.
This was a very remarkable argument, since even such extreme spokesmen for judicial restraint as Oliver Wendell Holmes recognized that the principle of judicial review is part of our Constitution. Yet Bork criticized Holmes for this, arguing that he hadn’t gone far enough in his Lochner dissent, because he’d still said that there might be some laws so arbitrary and unjustified as to exceed the legitimate powers of legislatures. Holmes, the godfather of “judicial restraint” if there ever was one, wasn’t restrained enough for Bork.
Even more remarkably, Bork claimed to base his anti-judicial review position on “original intent,” even though the authors of the Constitution made clear that they understood and meant to incorporate judicial review into the fundamental law. It’s mentioned in The Federalist. Madison discussed it in his speech introducing the Bill of Rights in Congress. Bork and his followers have labored to obscure these facts, but the historical record proves beyond dispute that judicial review predates the Constitution by centuries, and that courts were expected to protect what Bork called “unenumerated rights”—rights not explicitly referenced in the Bill of Rights—against violation by the government. Remember, between 1788 and 1791, there was no Bill of Rights. Did the founders, then, think there were no rights for courts to protect during those years? Of course not. More, under the unwritten British Constitution the founding fathers grew up studying, all rights were “unenumerated.” Yet British and American courts had protected such rights nevertheless, declaring them to be part of the “law of the land,” which even the King could not violate. Of course, even the term “unenumerated” is inaccurate. The Constitution does specifically protect “liberty,” so that even the allegedly “unenumerated” freedoms conservatives typically reject actually are enumerated.
But the bottom line was that Bork was opposed not to “judicial activism,” but to the principle of judicial review itself. His extreme blend of relativism and majoritarianism led him to condemn the idea that courts could declare anything beyond the legislature’s purview. Bork envisioned courts, not as a co-equal branch, one-third of the checks-and-balances system, but at most as a handmaiden of the legislature, which should act to enforce the will of the majority—which he thought “has the right to rule simply because it is a majority.” That premise—the exact opposite of what the Founders believed—certainly is incompatible with any robust conception of judicial review.
Bork thought that judicial activism was imposing the moral views of Washington elites on the people of America, sometimes for good motives, but nevertheless putting the rule of law at risk. To make this point, he was fond of quoting a passage from Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons in which Sir Thomas More resists the demands of his son-in-law Roper, to arrest a bad man in violation of legal principles:
More: What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More:...Oh?...And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?...This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—...d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?
What’s bewildering about Bork’s use of this quotation is how much it proves the exact opposite of his point. More is not intending here to enforce the will of the majority, but to resist it. The majority is represented here by Roper, not by More. And this resistance is not based of any statutory law passed by the Parliament; it rests on More’s enforcement of unwritten principles, established by independent judges such as himself. Indeed, More is speaking here of enforcing law-of-the-land rights, the theory we today refer to as Substantive Due Process, and which was Bork’s bête noir. Throughout his book, Bork’s argument is analogous to Roper’s, not to More’s. More is being a “judicial activist” in this scene.
By making war on the principle of independent judicial review—a principle as essential to the Constitution as the separation of powers or checks and balances—Bork was doing much more than attacking any particular court decision or even a particular jurisprudential theory (liberal versus conservative, or some such). He was instead attacking the very principle of an independent court system. Why? To get at the Devil, as Bork saw it—i.e., liberal elitist morality imposed by judges, and particularly Roe v. Wade. Conservatives in general have followed him, attacking “judicial activism”—preferring judicial passivity—in order to get at Roe v. Wade. But as More would say, where would these conservatives hide, the courts all being flat?
Judicial review is a key to forcing our government to operate subject to the law, instead of above the law. Cutting down judicial review would leave every one of us exposed to the daunting, irresistible power of shifting, unpredictable legislative majorities. That is why the founders believed independent courts so essential. “It is a just observation, that the people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD,” wrote Hamilton, “but their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it. They know from experience that they sometimes err; and the wonder is that they so seldom err as they do.” Courts exist to serve as “an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority.” Without judicial review, without an engaged judiciary, the Constitution’s promises of security would be valid only so long as the legislature chose to abide by them, and the instant the legislature chose to violate them, they would be rendered worthless. Where would we be with a judiciary as restrained as Bork and his followers (such as Judge Wilkinson) would have them? In fact, we’ve had a bit of a taste of it. It was the conservative rhetoric of “restraint” that gave us the 2012 Obamacare decision, in which Chef Justice Roberts upheld the ACA as an act of “judicial modesty.”
The conservative campaign against “judicial activism” is, in reality, one of two things: either it is only a way of complaining about particular decisions they don’t like, or it is—as in the case of Bork, or Judge Wilkinson—a much more consistent, and much more dangerous, call for the end of any meaningful judicial check on the other two branches of government. And where would we all hide, the rule of law all being flat?
Today's Libertarianism.org features my essay about how Lesley Gore's classic song "You Don't Own Me" expresses a basic principle of freedom. In it I elaborate on how different philosophers and artists, including Shakespeare, Milton, Nabokov, Elton John, George Michael, and Sidney Poitier, have elaborated on the theme of self-ownership. Here's an excerpt:
The gay poet David Trinidad loved Gore’s song when it appeared, and recalled how he would sit in his room and play the record over and over until it was too scratched to enjoy. In his 1994 poem “Answer Song,” he imagines how Lesley’s marriage to Johnny might have fared...:
What if Lesley hears about women’s lib?
What if she goes into therapy and begins
to question her attraction to emotionally
unavailable men? Suppose under hypnosis,
she returns to her sixteenth birthday party,
relives all those tears, and learns that
it was Judy—not Johnny—she’d wanted
all along. There’s no answer to that
song, of course, but I have
Lesley Gore in fact was a lesbian, as she admitted to herself only a few years after “You Don’t Own Me” hit the air....
Ironically, the effectiveness of “You Don’t Own Me” as a cultural weapon of self-defense has made it prime for borrowing by others whose message is not quite so gay-friendly. The rapper Eminem sampled the song in his 2010 tune “Untitled (Here We Go),” to fling back criticism about his violently homophobic and misogynistic lyrics. “Untitled” revels in violent fantasy and braggadocio, citing Gore’s song both in irony—to ridicule the notion of feminine assertiveness—and in conviction. He admits he’s “always shittin’ diarrhea at the mouth,” but “don’t strut away from me, cause / You don’t own me.” As for “remorse, I really don’t feel any.” He is “fashionable and ’bout as rational / as a rash on a fag’s asshole / Now let’s take that line, run it up the flag pole with Elton.”
Elton, of course, was Elton John...who in 2001 chose to perform alongside Eminem at the Grammy Awards. Many gays were shocked at this public alliance with a performer whose lyrics regularly incorporate images of savage violence toward homosexuals. But John has often refused to boycott performances in similar circumstances.... John refused to join other artists in boycotting performances in Russia after Vladimir Putin’s government began tightening persecutions of gays. In 2014, he told a St. Petersburg audience that he was shocked that the government had removed a memorial to Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs claiming it was “homosexual propaganda.” “Can this be true?” John asked his fans....
Is Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music “sexually perverting”?! As a gay man, I’ve always felt so welcome here in Russia. Stories of Russian fans—men and women who fell in love dancing to “Nikita”’ or their kids who sing along to “Circle of Life”—mean the world to me.
John’s reference to “Nikita” was well chosen. That song was released in 1985, when John was not only still in the closet, but a year into his marriage to recording engineer Renate Blauel. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold the constitutionality of state “anti-sodomy” laws in Bowers v. Hardwick. The state may impose the “majority[’s] sentiments about the morality of homosexuality” virtually without hindrance, wrote Justice Byron White. To this Justice Harry Blackmun answered that the right to privacy in intimate relationships deserves protection “not because they contribute, in some direct and material way, to the general public welfare” but in consequence of the “‘moral fact that a person belongs to himself and not others nor to society as a whole.’” You don’t own me.....
“Nikita” makes no reference to homosexuality—at first it appears to be an ordinary love ballad, sung to a sweetheart trapped behind the Iron Curtain. In the music video, John sits in a red convertible on the free side of the Berlin Wall, singing across the line to a gorgeous female border guard whose striking eyes really do “look like ice on fire.”
Oh Nikita you will never know
Anything about my home.
I’ll never know how good it feels to hold you.
Nikita I need you so.
Yet Nikita is a man’s name, and the song in reality plumbs the hopelessness of love locked behind the borders of an oppressive state....
That was a feeling with which many Europeans could sympathize. When Communist authorities decreed the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, they severed thousands of German families from relatives on the other side. In his famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech—delivered the same month that “Judy’s Turn to Cry” appeared—President Kennedy called the wall “an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.” The “modern walled-in society,” wrote Vladislov Krasnov, who defected from the USSR a year later, had revealed to the world the basic principle of the Communist state: “all citizens are considered state property."
Simply by using a Russian name that most Western listeners would mistakenly assume to be feminine, John could evoke all of these ideas, and employ both metaphor and appropriation to tweak the deplorable similarity between Soviet authoritarianism and the legal and social barriers against same-sex love still so prevalent in the west....
[T]he Civil Rights Movement was also largely a generational movement, in which young Americans demanded an end to long-established generational practices. The young protestors who marched to Washington or rode buses in Freedom Summer were, King said, the “integration generation.”
In January, 1968, only months before King’s assassination, the connection between the movement for racial equality and the generation gap found ingenious expression in the film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, starring Sidney Poitier and Katherine Houghton
....Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is actually not about race, but about the older generation accepting their children as adults.... Joanna cannot envision any problems with the engagement—she’s made up her mind, and sees no reason in the world not to be married immediately. But for John, the struggle is harder. His admiration for his father has left him unwilling to buck the older generation until at last he is forced. And when he is forced, the film’s climactic confrontation comes not in a clash the white and black families, but between John and his father. In words that might just as well have been spoken to white America by the rising generation of blacks fed up with being treated like children, John announces his independence and his right to make his own choices:
My friend Anthony Dynar and I talk about The Conscience of The Constitution in the latest episode of his podcast, TortureVision.
Willie Nelson's recent article urging Republicans to consider the needs of family farmers was like a good song: it sounded nice, and was full of memorable romantic imagery. The reality, though, is a bit more prosaic.
For example, Nelson begins by saying that "industrial agriculture uses" the slogan "feeding the world" to "justify its existence." It's hard to imagine a justification more powerful than that, if the slogan is true--and it is. American industrial farming does feed the world. But Nelson argues that the focus should be on "feeding all of us, rather than feeding corporate interests. People, not profits, should come first."
What does that mean, exactly? Are family farmers not motivated by profit? Do they just give away their food? Of course not. Like anyone else, family farmers deserve to be paid for their labor. If Nelson's point is that corporate farming gets tons of unfair handouts and subsidies from taxpayers, he's certainly right about that. But is he arguing that farmers shouldn't get subsidies? Far from it. He urged the government to "stabilize rising production costs and uncertain market prices"--meaning, subsidize the purchase of inputs and restrict prices, as the government already does through programs that make it illegal to charge low prices. (That's right--under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act and similar laws, it's illegal to decrease food prices in many cases.)
Throughout his article, Nelson suggests that "family farms" are the kind of hardy, self-reliant Jeffersonian small-acreage yeoman citizens that have so long been a fixture of the American romantic imagination. But it's always been, and still remains, imagination. While most small farms are family farms, most family farms are not small farms. Most of what go by that name are big agribusiness concerns that enjoy access to the kinds of subsidies that people think go to small concerns. Even Jefferson, who created this mythology, ran his era's equivalent of Big Ag: with a workforce of hundreds of slaves scattered over thousands of acres on several farms, not just Monticello--and Jefferson enjoyed using the most cutting-edge agricultural technology of his day. He even won an international scientific reputation for inventing a new kind of plow.
But Nelson opposes high-tech agribusiness, not because it doesn't produce a lot of food for a hungry world, but for the opposite reason: because "industrial agriculture displaces the people who farm and steward the land." No doubt small-scale farms take care of the land, but statistics show that the high-efficiency methods of industrial agriculture are, acre for acre, better for the environment. They use less per harvest-pound in fossil fuel, not to mention human labor, than do the "organic" methods Nelson applauds. And the idea that big ag "produces cheap food that damages our health" is just false. Agribusiness produces food that is nutritious and safe--while organic farming is not only no healthier, but it may actually be worse for you. For one thing, plants grown without pesticides are forced to find their own ways to fight off pest infestation. They do it through their own defensive chemicals, which are bad for us, and by making smaller and fewer fruits.
This last point is essential. Nelson blithely seems to minimize the importance of producing "cheap food." But in a world where millions still go hungry, humanity's first priority should be finding ways to make more, and cheaper food. Americans are fortunate enough to worry about the epidemic of obesity. The rest of the world can only wish it had such problems. Even if it were true that food produced by big ag weren't as good for you as "organic"--which is not the case--it would still be preferable to feed the hungry now, and worry about their cholesterol later.
The romantic image of the hardy independent farmer is very compelling. And certainly corporate farms, like other corporate interests, have access to unfair forms of corporate welfare that actually reduce production and squeeze out entrepreneurial farmers who don't have the political influence to obtain similar favors from Uncle Sam. But the solution to that problem isn't Nelson's vague notion of a "democratic food system." It's to stop the Robin Hood redistribution schemes which Nelson actually endorses. If agribusiness out-competes small farmers economically, it's because agribusiness produces more of what people need at lower cost. That's a good thing. What Nelson disdains as our "industrial agriculture system" is an industry that supports a world population vastly larger than anything organic farming could ever support.
And it's because of big ag's tremendous success in producing more, cheaper food at lower cost, that banks are more willing to extend credit to those farmers over the risky, niche-market farmers Nelson lauds. If I were a banker, I'd certainly be more likely to lend to a large, successful corporation with a proven track record than to a small, less-efficient family farmer whose market is largely based on such marketing gimmicks as the "local food" movement or "farm to fork" sloganeering. If small farms can't compete for credit against big farms, that's generally because the latter have outcompeted the former--and that is as it should be. If consumers choose the products of these large, mechanized farms over the produce of old-fashioned small farms--because it's cheaper and more plentiful--then more power to them, even if that means the end of the yeoman farmer ethos. Call that "squeezing out" if you like, but Americans shouldn't be forced to support any business that can't compete fairly. Taxpayers shouldn't be forced to subsidize family farms out of a romantic appeal to the myth of the small farmer, any more than they should be forced to subsidize buggy whip makers who can't compete against car manufacturers and complain that they're being "squeezed out" by "big auto." Of course, if small family farms really are better--if as Nelson claims, they are "the ones who will actually feed the world"--then they have nothing to fear. They should be able to compete without the government interference that Nelson's asking for.
Again, there's no denying that one of the keys to big ag's success is the amount of corporate welfare Congress dishes out every few years in its Agriculture Bills. But the injustices and economic distortions those cause should be combatted by ending those handouts--not by demanding a whole new round of handouts for the small-scale farmer--handouts Nelson euphemizes as "policies that promote access to land, credit and fair markets." In practice these general terms mean forcing banks to make overly risky loans, guaranteed by taxpayer bailouts, and price controls that illegalize cheap food. Nelson claims that "More people than ever are seeking out family farm food." That's doubtful--the "local food" movement is mostly a boutique market that serves people lucky enough that they can afford to indulge in such aesthetic preferences, rather than the world's poor, who need whatever nourishment they can get now, and don't care if it's grown by a robot. But if it is true, then why the demand for government to step on and "help"? If demand is really outstripping supply, then these farms should be able to survive on their own.
What we don't need are government policies that aim to "stabilize" the "uncertain market prices"--that is, allow government bureaucrats and agricultural cartels to force food prices up in order to benefit farmers at the expense of consumers. Nor do we need government programs to "increase access to the credit that farmers need" and haven't been able to earn. Risky government lending means bailouts in the end. Nor do we need government to manage "healthy competition"--that word "healthy" typically means, enabling small, less-efficient businesses that can't compete economically to use the government to ban competition and keep prices up. And we don't need government to "ensure that farmers and farmworkers earn a living wage"-which, again, means forcing food prices up in a world where people are going hungry and need whatever food they can get at the lowest possible price.
Most of all, we don't need any more quaint, vague romanticism about "a food and agriculture system that works for people." The hard reality is that hungry people need food now--and they need it cheaply and plentifully. The mythology of the Jeffersonian farmer is a lovely, enticing vision. But it can't feed humanity. What we need isn't some "people not profits" folk song--what we need his a humane agricultural policy, which allows the best competitors to succeed by making more, better, low cost food.
A couple issues ago, I reviewed his book, Terms of Engagement, and you can read that review here.
I was in studio on the Armstrong & Getty show this morning, to talk about some recent Supreme Court decisions, and the death of Leonard Nimoy. If you missed it, you can listen online here.
Of course I wanted to be Spock. How could you not? He was always supremely competent, perfectly serene, and—most importantly—immune to the tempests of emotion. A teenage boy too curious and intellectual for his own good could hardly expect to be anything but “fascinated.” It is a tribute to Leonard Nimoy’s brilliance in this role that his character became the most beloved in the Star Trek franchise, for these very reasons. No other actor who played a Vulcan in the many series over the decades that followed ever approached the success Nimoy attained. His influence on the culture goes far beyond those of a mere actor on a TV show, and enters the realm of those select few who have built ideas and references that will be cherished for generations.
But I and many others feel his loss on a personal level. And the reason is—as Virginia Postrel has so well put it—the glamor of Spock. He projected an ideal. Or so I thought at the time. As I grew, I realized what the Star Trek franchise itself realized—and what Leonard Nimoy knew all along: the whole point of Star Trek is that Spock is wrong.
Spock’s struggle with his humanity made for great dramatic (and comedic) moments—but the point of the series, the point of the character, is to dramatize the value of that humanity. Spock is at his greatest, not when he is the brilliant scientist, but when he is Jim’s friend, when he slyly jokes with McCoy, when he realizes at last that “logic is only the beginning of wisdom.” In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we first see Spock about to receive the Kolinahr medal—to commemorate that he has at last extinguished the final trace of emotion from his brain. At the last second, he is denied the award, because he still can relate to his human friends. He is ashamed of this, and seems secretly to resent Kirk and others for it. It is this that Spock must overcome. Over the course of the series and the films, what he learns is how to embrace the emotions he has struggled against. It takes death and rebirth before for him to discover how to do this, and at last, in the beautiful reconciliation scene at the end of Star Trek IV, he tells his father that the Enterprise crew “are my friends.” This is his true moment of triumph.
Nimoy knew this about Spock all the while. He knew that the character is only just hiding his feelings, hiding himself—and that he must learn to embrace who he is, not to pretend it’s not him. It was this element that made his character more than a boring robot—that made him, as Kirk says in the funeral in Wrath of Khan, the most human soul in the series. That was also a lesson that took some time for a certain unpopular, bookish kid, who twenty years ago was the second president of the Eisenhower High School science fiction club, to learn.
Spock was a wonderfully fun pop symbol, and it’s amusing to recall some of Leonard Nimoy’s tendency to nuttiness (his awful poetry; his worse records). But I’ll also take a serious moment to mourn the loss of a man who managed to bring something serious and important into my life, and probably yours.
He meant a lot to me, and I’ll miss him.
Some days ago, as guests at the International Students for Liberty Conference prepared to hear from one of their heroes, Ron Paul, three students--Aarón Shelby Baca, Mackenzie Holst, and Cory Massimino--presented "An Open Letter to Ron Paul," taking Paul and his allies to task for their bigoted and anti-libertarian positions.
Readers of this blog know that I have long warned about the shabby counterfeit of Paul's libertarian credentials. He is not, in fact, a libertarian, but an authoritarian states rights conservative, who, to name just one example, believes that the state has the right to send its armed agents into your bedroom to drag you from the arms of your loved ones if you have sex in ways the majority finds distasteful.
Baca, Holst, and Massimino were shouted down as they tried to make their case, by students so wedded to groupthink and partisanship that they would prefer to shut their ears to the truth. One cannot imagine a less libertarian attitude. But on the other hand, there are those like Baca, Holst, and Massimino, who will stand up for the truth and stand up for freedom even when those values are threatened by their friends. And those who love truth more than their friends, and love freedom enough to resist their own "side," will always have a truer claim to the label "libertarian." I for one congratulate Aarón Shelby Baca, Mackenzie Holst, and Cory Massimino for their bravery and their honesty in setting forth this long-overdue challenge to the libertarian community.
Here is the text of their letter:
Dear Dr. Ron Paul,
We would like to preface this letter by pointing out it is written with the utmost respect and appreciation for all you have done to contribute to the freedom philosophy and human liberty. However, as principled supporters of liberty, we find your appearance at the International Students For Liberty Conference troubling for a few reasons. Most of which relate to your past and current associations with certain individuals and organizations that we find un-libertarian.
We believe many of the people you have aligned yourself with and continue to align yourself with are libertarians only in name and their true ideology is one more akin to a bigoted and authoritarian paleo-conservatism. Your appearance at Mises Circle in Houston, Texas just a few weeks ago is a prime example of this.
The prevalence of an age gap in the libertarian movement has been underscored by the ideas discussed in conferences such as the Mises Circle and put forth by the Mises Institute itself. “Millennial” or “Second-wave” libertarianism is not going away and there seems to be irreconcilable differences between these new libertarians and the old guard, which includes figures such as Lew Rockwell, Hans Herman-Hoppe, Walter Block, Gary North, and yourself. In this letter, we would like to highlight the downright absurdity promoted by this obsolete style of thinking, as delineated in the racist, homophobic, and sexist undertones present in these thinkers’ writings.
The themes of bigotry at the Mises Circle and in many of your colleague’s writings are obvious. At the Mises Circle, Lew Rockwell, founder and chairman of the Mises Institute, compared the life of people under modern nation states to literal chattel slavery. We admit the state is a gang of thieves writ large. But this analogy is downright offensive to people have suffered actual chattel slavery as well as people who have relatively great living standards under modern states. Libertarians can expose the evils of statism without resorting to bad metaphors with blatantly obvious racist undertones.
Hans Herman-Hoppe, distinguished fellow of the Mises Institute, wrote just last year that, “it is societies dominated by white heterosexual males, and in particular by the most successful among them, which have produced and accumulated the greatest amount of capital goods and achieved the highest average living standards.” Hoppe has also advocated violence against homosexuals and other people who live lifestyles he doesn’t approve of, “There can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They-the advocates of alternative, non-family-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism-will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.” The racist and homophobic themes in these passages speak for themselves.
Walter Block, senior fellow at the Mises Institute, has argued, “Feminists and gays aren’t libertarians.” Also on the topic of homosexuals, Block has written, “If a seventeen year old is an adult, and voluntarily wants to have sex with an adult homosexual man, I may not like it. I may be revolted by it.” If that wasn’t clear enough, Block has made his bigoted views explicit, “I am a cultural conservative. This means that I abhor homosexuality, bestiality, and sadomasochism, as well as pimping, prostituting, drugging, and other such degenerate behavior.” In addition, he has put forth the idea that “lower black IQs” could explain productivity differences between blacks and whites. Again, the arguments speak for themselves.
Gary North, an associated scholar at the Mises Institute, is an outspoken Christian Reconstructionist and supporter of biblical theocracy. North advocates capital punishment by means of stoning for women who lie about their virginity, blasphemers, nonbelievers, children who curse their parents, male homosexuals, and other people who commit acts deemed capital offense in the Old Testament. These views are certainly not representative of the libertarianism we’ve come to know and love.
And then there’s you. The now infamous newsletters that had your signature several years ago contained rhetoric referring to people of color as “animals”, asserted that homosexuals with HIV “enjoy the pity and attention that comes with being sick,” and went so far as to sanction anti-semitic views.
When questioned about these newsletters in 1996, you told the Dallas Morning News, “Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” You didn’t dispute the newsletters and you certainly never condemned this: “If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be,” which appeared along with your signature.
Bigoted subtext has consistently been condoned by so-called “pro-liberty” individuals; a contradiction of the most offensive degree. Liberty cannot exist if individuals of any group are viewed as inferior, whether it is outright, or merely in the connotations of an argument. Suppression means the absence of liberty; something the founding fathers of Libertarianism built up a wealth of rhetoric against. Hypocrisy to this extent cannot be permitted any longer in the libertarian movement.
In Ludwig von Mises’ classic work, Liberalism, he identified tolerance as a fundamental value of a free society, “Liberalism demands tolerance as a matter of principle, not from opportunism. It demands toleration even of obviously nonsensical teachings, absurd forms of heterodoxy, and childishly silly superstitions. It demands toleration for doctrines and opinions that it deems detrimental and ruinous to society and even for movements that it indefatigably combats. For what impels liberalism to demand and accord toleration is not consideration for the content of the doctrine to be tolerated, but the knowledge that only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace without which humanity must relapse into the barbarism and penury of centuries long past.”
This isn’t about guilt by association. It’s about condemning evil, illiberal ideas and being clear about your principles. You continue to hide behind your prestige, refusing to admit this intolerance exists, although it was your name signed on the papers, and you who allowed this bigoted mentality to perpetuate by being closely associated with the Mises Institute. As the icon of the libertarian movement, you have a duty to eliminate this intolerance, not sit back and let it destroy the cause you helped create.
Do you think the Ludwig von Mises Institute has really embraced its namesake’s crucial insight here? Do you think you have? If not, then tell us. Condemn all forms of bigotry and intolerance as unlibertarian. Denounce these connections and the ideas of sexism, homophobia, and racism that have infected the Mises Institute and by extension the libertarian movement. Reclaim Mises and true liberalism. If libertarianism is to advance in the coming century, we must continue to build a community of peace, acceptance, and tolerance and whether you like it or not, it starts with you.
Sincerely and For Liberty and Tolerance,
Aarón Shelby Baca, Mackenzie Holst, and Cory Massimino
The Blaze today carries my article on "Competitor's Veto" laws--laws that forbid you from starting a business unless you get permission from your own competition first. Excerpt:
Unlike ordinary licensing rules that require a person to have a degree or pass a test before getting a license, these laws have nothing to do with whether a person is qualified. Instead, they allow established companies a special opportunity to object whenever a person applies for a license. When an objection is filed, the would-be entrepreneur must attend a lengthy and expensive hearing, to prove to state bureaucrats that there is a “public need” for a new company.
That’s no easy task, given that most of these laws are written in such vague language that nobody knows what they mean. What is a “public convenience and necessity”? Typically it’s whatever the government says it is. And if officials decide new competition isn’t necessary, they can deny a person the right to start a new business, no matter how skilled or qualified he may be.
I recently sat down with my friend Anthony Dynar to record an episode of his podcast Torture Vision, which in this case is an apt name, since we talked about the themes of totalitarianism in The Twilight Zone, particularly the episode "It's A Good Life." That episode, based on the short story by Jerome Bixby, is a brilliant exposé of totalitarian rule.
In the podcast, I mention Gyula Illyés's poem "A Sentence on Tyranny." You can read it here.
I expand on my comments about R.E.M.'s classic song, "Losing My Religion," here.
The passage from the Psalms that I cite is from Psalm 137, when the captives hung their harps upon the willows, weeping as they remembered Zion, but "they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth."