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2 June 2009
June 2009 / Issue 02
Prelude to a Revolution
12 History Lesson
What Young Americans for Liberty can learn from Young Americans for Freedom
Illustration by Anthony Rousseau
By Gregory L. Schneider
20 The Revolution Comes to CPAC
Amid the has-beens of movement conservatism, Ron Paul stages an insurgency.
By Patrick J. Ford
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford isn’t perfect— but he may be the anti-Obama we need.
The Next Ron Paul? By Jack Hunter
23 Who Owns You?
By David Gordon
The philosophical justiﬁcations for liberty.
From deals with foreign governments to inﬂating our currency, our central bank’s secrecy has been a cover for fraud.
Audit the Fed! By Matthew Hawes
28 Who Killed Our Economy?
Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse by Thomas E. Woods Jr.
By Christopher Best
Tea Parties and Tax Revolts By W. James Antle III
Americans rebel against pork and big-government.
The earliest 1960s radicals opposed “corporate liberalism” — as the Revolution does today.
The New Left Was Right By Dylan Hales
30 Conserving the Constitution
Defending the Republic: Constitutional Morality in a Time of Crisis Bruce P. Frohnen and Kenneth L. Grasso, eds.
By Mark Nugent
Emory’s Donald Livingston champions the cause Leviathan fears most—secession.
Enemy of the State By Kelse Moen
32 Art for Survival’s Sake
The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution by Dennis Dutton
By Jeremy Lott
The Trouble With Burke
By George Hawley The ﬁght for liberty must be radical, not counter-revolutionary. By Franklin Harris Alan Moore’s Watchmen remains a stirring warning against absolute power.
We Don’t Need Another Hero
37 Liberty at the Oscars
The award for pro-freedom ﬁlm of the year goes to…
By John Payne
3 Young American Revolution
Prelude to a Revolution
Publisher Jeff Frazee Editorial Director Daniel McCarthy Deputy Editors Patrick J. Ford, Edward King Art Director Matthew Holdridge Illustration Shane Helm, Anthony Rousseau Contributing Editors W. James Antle III, Dylan Hales, George Hawley, Trent Hill, Jack Hunter, Bonnie Kristian, Kelse Moen, John W. Payne
Young American Revolution is the ofﬁcial publication of Young Americans for Liberty (www.YALiberty. org). Subscriptions are $50 for one year (4 issues). Checks may be made out to Young Americans for Liberty and sent to PO Box 2751, Arlington, VA 22202. Young American Revolution accepts letters to the editor and freelance submissions. Letters should be between 50 and 300 words. Submissions should be between 700 and 2400 words. Letters and submissions may be edited for length and content. Write to us at email@example.com or PO Box 2751, Arlington, VA 22202. Young Americans for Liberty is the continuation of Students for Ron Paul (SFP). In less than 8 months, SFP established over 500 college and high school chapters in all 50 states and over 26,000 students joined the Ron Paul 2008 campaign. The mission of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is to train, educate, and mobilize youth activists committed to “winning on principle”. Our goal is to cast the leaders of tomorrow and reclaim the policies, candidates, and direction of our government. We welcome limited government conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians who trust in the creed we set forth. Opinions expressed in Young American Revolution are not necessarily the views of Young Americans for Liberty. Copyright 2009 Young Americans for Liberty
o Rachel Maddow and the rest of the left-wing media, the anti-tax tea parties of April 15 were a cause for mockery. To Fox News and the Republican establishment, the parties were a reassuring Photo by Eric Slee sign that all is forgiven after the budget-busting years of Bush and the grassroots are once more enthusiastic about the GOP. Don’t believe it: the left-wing and right-wing statists are both wrong. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was no laughing matter: it was an act of civil disobedience, a deﬁance of royal authority. The original tea party was a prelude to the American Revolution. The protestors of April 15 (and the weeks before) also want a revolution—an end to unchecked federal spending, asphyxiating taxes, and the ongoing debasement of our currency. Placards demanding “End the Fed!” could be seen at more than a few of the protests. But tea parties are not enough. While thousands of the activists who gathered on April 15 had sound constitutional views, many thousands more did not—as the easy acceptance of so many opportunistic politicians as speakers at these events demonstrated. And even some of the most well-informed protesters have not been given the tools necessary to make their principles a political reality. The media and government classes will continue to deride and co-opt the rebellious spirit of the tea parties so long as popular dissatisfaction with the political system is only given symbolic, emotional outlets. For a real revolution, we need the right ideas and the means to make them effective—to win on principle. This issue of the Young American Revolution looks at the tea parties and the revolt against the Fed and inquires into the deeper principles behind both. (Our next issue
will concentrate on how to operationalize those principles on your campus or in your community.) Within these pages you will ﬁnd more than one perspective on what the soundest basis for opposition to executive power, imperial wars, and ﬁnancial fraud is. Mastering the philosophy of liberty requires more than reciting talking points that might go down easy on talk radio. There are issues of contention among liberty-minded people that have to be pondered carefully. And building a successful anti-statist coalition means bringing together people of very different viewpoints: libertarians, conservatives, anarcho-capitalists, and perhaps even (as Dylan Hales’s article suggests) decentralist leftists. YAL does not impose any single set of doctrines on anyone—we welcome the full diversity of young Americans who love liberty and hate Leviathan. This issue of YAR also presents some of the most vexing questions that confront students of liberty. Is conservative icon Edmund Burke a radical enough ﬁgure for anti-statists today? Should historically evolved tradition or pure natural rights be our guide to liberty—or can the two paths be reconciled? How can we distinguish ourselves as constitutionalists when every power-grabbing politico, from Bush to Obama, claims to uphold the Constitution? Don’t just accept the arguments our authors make—if you have a better argument, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make your case. To win on principle, we need to test our ideas rigorously—then put them to work in political campaigns and public policy. The tea parties were just the ﬁrst step. Now it’s time for the Revolution. - �e Editors
4 June 2009
The Next Ron Paul?
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford isn’t perfect— but he may be the anti-Obama we need.
South Carolina governor slams GOP on eve of debate,” read the headline for The Politico, and headline worthy it was. In May 2007, when every Republican running for president (except Ron Paul) believed the candidate who was most bombastic about his willingness to bomb foreign nations would win the GOP nomination, Republican Governor Mark Sanford chastised his party for being blind to what he believed was the most ominous threat on the political horizon. Wrote Sanford:
let’s-focus-on-spending plea was already a deﬁning feature of his campaign was catapulted to stardom during that debate by daring to buck his party on foreign policy, as Ron Paul explained to a GOP and a nation something they had never heard before— how U.S. interventionism resulted in “blowback” and contributed to 9/11. Rudy Giuliani blustered that Paul was blaming the U.S. for 9/11 and demanded an apology. Rudy never got it—and America got the Ron Paul Revolution. In looking for future Revolution allies and leaders, one could On Tuesday, our state will do much worse than Sanford. host the ﬁrst debate in the Sanford’s ﬁnancial warnings South among the Republican came long before any Wall Street South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford presidential candidates. It’s my bailouts or stimulus packages. hope that this debate kicks off Sanford’s predictions were cona much larger conversation sistently ignored during the same period Paul and market observer among the presidential candidates—and all Americans—on Peter Schiff were making similar forecasts. All three men were the vital issue of government spending. Spending is one of dismissed or laughed at by pundits and politicians for their lack those prickly issues that the media has seemed to assign as of optimism, relentless “doom and gloom,” and “sky-is-falling” too boring, the pundits as too complex. (But) for the candieconomics. dates in this crowded ﬁeld, the spending debate represents a That is, until the sky fell. As the economy faltered, Sanford real opportunity. It is a big issue that will make a difference in emerged on the national scene as a hard-line ﬁscal conservative every American’s life in the years ahead, and it’s an area that for whom more government spending was not simply undesirhas not been graced with leadership. Let’s face it: My party, able but an albatross. While being against stimulus spending is the Republicans, have been in control, and they have blown it all the rage among Republicans now that President Obama is in when it comes to government spending. the White House, Sanford was the only governor to plead with President Bush and Congress not to go forward with their own Of course, the debate that followed was about more spendstimulus last year. Reported the Augusta Chronicle in November: ing—and how each candidate (except Ron Paul) was willing to spend even more billions to prolong and expand President Bush’s Let’s hear it for South Carolina’s GOP Gov. Mark Sanford. War on Terror. Ironically, the one candidate for whom Sanford’s
5 Young American Revolution
Governors and mayors are holding out tin cups in Washington in hopes of getting a chunk of yet another bailout package... Sanford made his plea too, but he wasn’t holding a tin cup. He was the only governor to urge the House Ways and Means Committee last Wednesday to drop the whole idea of another bailout, or as it’s called in D.C.—a ‘stimulus package.’ Sanford told the committee, “I’m here to beg of you not to approve or advance the contemplated $150 billion stimulus package... this $150 billion salve may in fact further infect our economy with unnecessary government inﬂuence and unintended ﬁscal consequences.” The debate and eventual passage of Obama’s $787 billion stimulus further elevated Sanford’s proﬁle, but this time he was joined in opposing it by congressional Republicans and a handful of GOP governors. In the ongoing media obsession with who will lead the GOP, it’s worth noting that in contrast to Sanford, some of the most prominent names bandied about, particularly governors like Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal, were not only more than willing to accept federal stimulus packages and similar spending under President Bush but remain tepid at best in rejecting his legacy now. Says Sanford forthright of Bush’s massive spending, “That is what ‘compassionate conservatism’ was about. It was a disaster. Our niche is maximizing individual liberty.” For Sanford, “maximizing liberty” has always been more than just empty, clichéd Republican rhetoric—it has deﬁned his entire political career. With the possible exception of the PATRIOT Act, the Bush-sponsored Homeland Security measure REAL ID, an attempt to force states to adopt a new system of federal identiﬁcation, has threatened to become the most sweeping infringement on Americans’ civil liberties in recent memory. Sanford not only joined a number of governors in rejecting the mandate (it should be noted that while in Congress current Louisiana Governor Jindal voted for both the REAL ID Act and for making the PATRIOT Act permanent) but was one of the leading voices of resistance. Sanford explained his opposition to REAL ID in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff: REAL ID represents another step against a limited federal government. Our greatest homeland security is liberty and, yet, based on the history of civilizations, its biggest threat is found in a central government that is too powerful. Our founding fathers were explicit in reserving ﬁrst to individuals, then to states, all the powers that were not expressly delegated to the federal government. As mentioned, they did this because they considered the biggest threat to liberty a large federal government, and as a consequence, they put in place checks on its prerogative ... . The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to assemble and petition their government, and in it there has never been a qualiﬁcation that said, ‘Only if you have a REAL ID card.’ I think it would be best to let the Founding Fathers’ original work stand. While opposition to REAL ID was broad, Sanford’s concern for civil liberties has remained steadfast even when unpopular. Recent state legislation that would require DNA samples to be taken
from suspects upon an arrest for a felony was touted as a necessary “law and order” measure by most Palmetto State Republicans and law enforcement, yet Sanford frustrated both by vetoing it. Sanford’s veto was eventually overridden, and in defying his party, police chiefs, countless newspaper editorials, numerous mayors, and more than a few of his constituents, the governor found himself on the same side as the ACLU and the NAACP—not exactly an enviable position for a Southern Republican governor. Reported the Associated Press: A new South Carolina law requiring DNA samples from people arrested on felony charges is overly intrusive and harkens to ‘totalitarian regimes,’ the governor said today as he joined with the NAACP to call for the rule to be changed. Law enforcement ofﬁcials argue the new law will be more efﬁcient than having to seek court orders to collect samples. By that reasoning, Sanford said police could do their jobs even more efﬁciently if they didn’t have to obey the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment against unlawful search and seizure. ‘With all due respect, efﬁciency—supposed efﬁciency—is the mark of totalitarian regimes,’ Sanford said at a news conference today with Lonnie Randolph, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. ‘Again, we’ll look at any and all options as an administration to thwart this effort because, again, we think it breaks the premise of the American system, which is: One is innocent until proven guilty,’ the governor said. Standing alone or in unpopular company is nothing new for Sanford, as he has always put his conservatism before personal or party expediency. When President Bill Clinton declared, “the era of big government is over” in 1996, it was in response to the so-called “Republican Revolution” of 1994, when the GOP swept the House and picked up eight seats in the Senate on promises to bring ﬁscal responsibility back to Washington. One of that class, Congressman Sanford made news by sleeping on a cot in his Washington ofﬁce to save taxpayer dollars (still occasionally theatrical, governor Sanford would later show up in the South Carolina Statehouse with two baby pigs to mock state lawmakers’ pork-laden budget) and stuck to his limited government promise, unlike many of his colleagues. As National Public Radio recently noted, “Sanford came to the Capitol with the torch-bearing troops of Newt Gingrich but proved even more conservative than his cohort. He often lined up with libertarian hero Ron Paul, even when no one else did. And unlike many who took the three-termsand-out pledge, Sanford did his three and left.” Sanford’s dedicated libertarian-leaning conservatism is also, no doubt, what prompted him often to be the lone Republican to vote with Paul against constitutionally questionable bills—everything from legislation protecting historical sites associated with the Underground Railroad to numerous pork barrel projects that would have beneﬁted his district. On constitutional grounds, Sanford was one of only two Republicans (do I have to say who the other was?) who voted against a 1998 resolution calling for regime change in Iraq, and he opposed President Clinton’s war in Kosovo. Sanford told The American Conservative in March, “I don’t believe in preemptive war…For us to hold the moral high ground in the world, our default position must be defensive.” Sanford has also
6 June 2009
long been an advocate for ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba, service but is often secretly reviled for refusing to play politics as which to date has been a rare position amongst Republicans. usual. (In 2004, the Republican-controlled South Carolina StateThis isn’t to say that Sanford’s antiwar credentials stand up house overrode 105 of Sanford’s106 budget vetoes.) Among state to Paul’s, or that he is a noninterventionist in the strictest sense. Democrats, Sanford is also reviled, and I have heard some of the When Sanford appeared alongside Gingrich on Fox News in nastiest conversations in restaurants and bars directed at the govApril, seemingly agreeing, although mutedly, with the former ernor—and guess why? For the same reason Sanford is disparaged Georgia congressman about “taking out” North Korea’s missile by his own party: refusing to play politics as usual, which means capabilities, the whole exchange left anti-empire admirers of the voting for pork and happily accepting whatever “stimulus” Washgovernor scratching their heads. Explained Sanford press secreington doles out. tary Joel Sawyer during a phone conversation, “To call Sanford In understanding Sanford’s exceptional yet old-fashioned Rea ‘non-interventionist’ is not exactly true. But the threshold for publicanism, it’s worth contrasting him with another high proﬁle him is so high, ridiculously high” for any military intervention or Palmetto politician, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, a man who often involvement that it’s hard to make the distinction. Sawyer brought ﬁnds himself on the opposite side of his governor’s conservative up that Sanford opposed both the Kosovo intervention and the agenda. It’s easy to see why the authoritarian-leaning Republican invasion of Iraq because he did not believe they were justiﬁed. Graham—who has butted heads with the libertarian-leaning govOn the question of the North Korea missile test, Sawyer said ernor on everything from REAL ID to amnesty for illegal aliens, that Sanford meant what he said—Washington, D.C. cannot keep the Wall Street bailout to nationalizing banks—is more embraced talking tough to North Korea and never back it up. And if there by his party than Sanford is. Graham is the quintessential Repubis a way for the U.S. to make good on its warnings without comlican establishment candidate. Graham is also overwhelmingly mitting troops or invading a nation, Sanford supunpopular among the Republican rank and ﬁle—on ports it. talk radio, Graham’s name is spoken with the type That Sanford has a “ridiculously high” threshold of scorn usually reserved for Obama. It is widely for what justiﬁes foreign intervention is comfortbelieved that the only thing that saved Graham in ing—but if his elevated threshold is low enough the last election was the “R” next to his name and to include unwise, politically costly, and needless a $4 million war chest. (His opponent spent about attacks on nations like North Korea, Sanford may $23,000.) The deep-red state of South Carolina simleave Ron Paul supporters who are otherwise symply doesn’t send Democrats to D.C. these days. pathetic to him wondering if he’s really any better But it might be sending a worthy Republican than the average Republican hawk. governor to the capital before too long. Speculation Sanford could lose a signiﬁcant base of support about the 2012 presidential election is mostly acain the process. Paul himself highlighted his relationdemic, as even much-touted frontrunners like Palin were unknown nationally a year ago. The political ship with Sanford in Congress during his speech at world is constantly changing and today’s celebrithe St. Louis Campaign for Liberty regional conties could easily become tomorrow’s footnotes. But ference in early April. This is remarkable in itself, some things remain constant—real conservative considering that Paul spends more time attacking his Palmetto revolutionary? principles and the economic truth that spending spendthrift, Constitution-trashing, warmongering money that does not exist will invariably lead to dicolleagues than praising exceptions like Sanford. saster. Only a leader who possesses the former can possibly stop Elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association in the latter. November, Sanford continues to raise his proﬁle—and with it, There are few Republicans on the national scene whose conspeculation that he might run for president in 2012. Often menservative principles don’t ﬂap aimlessly in the wind depending on tioned in the same breath as governors Jindal and Palin, Sanford which party occupies the White House. And there are even fewer is markedly different precisely because his celebrity has nothing to whose dedication to liberty—and recognition that economic freedo with race, gender, or the cult of personality. As the Republidom is not separate but integral to liberty—demands that spendcan Party continues to hunt for personalities that might outshine ing must stop, budgets must be cut drastically, and constitutional the president’s in the next election, Sanford remains the antifreedoms are non-negotiable. Mark Sanford is among those few. Obama—not only on ﬁscal matters but as a man too concerned After four or eight years of Obama, America will no longer be about bringing budgets down to earth to worry about the pomp able to afford—quite literally—just another smooth talker, anand circumstance of Hollywood-style politics. Much like Paul, other pretty face, or a more politically correct GOP smile. Serious Sanford isn’t the most charismatic personality, yet his most ardent crises call for serious leaders, and the future may demand much admirers remain such because of his ideas alone. more than another nominal Republican. The country needs a true Sanford is the most popular politician in South Carolina—deconservative we can believe in. pending on whom you talk to. Among rank-and-ﬁle Republicans, Sanford is adored. In my work in talk radio, trying to ﬁnd a con“The Southern Avenger” Jack Hunter [southernavenger@southernavenger. servative Republican who will disparage Sanford is like trying to com] is a personality for 1250 AM WTMA talk radio in Charleston, South ﬁnd one who will talk down Reagan—it simply doesn’t happen. Carolina, a columnist for the Charleston City Paper, and a contributing Within the state GOP establishment, Sanford is paid polite lip editor for Taki’s Magazine.
7 Young American Revolution
Audit the Fed!
From deals with foreign governments to inﬂating our currency, our central bank’s secrecy has been a cover for fraud
ne of the most amazing aspects dollars to ﬁnancial institutions, yet it of the Ron Paul Revolution is the refuses to release the list of who rediversity of the activists who have asceived the funds. When asked for this sembled from all manner of religious, information by Sen. Bernie Sanders at cultural, and political backgrounds to a Senate Budget Committee hearing, champion a common cause. Though Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke ﬂat out we have our disagreements on the said, “No.” Can you imagine anyone ﬁner points of various issues, we stand else getting away with such an answer united in support of reclaiming our to a congressional inquiry? Republic and restoring our ConstituThe Fed has loaned billions of doltion. lars to foreign central banks, but it will And one particular subject uniﬁes our not provide details of these loans eimovement like no other: economics. ther. And while the central bank does If you have attended a Ron Paul rally release the minutes of its Open Marin the past, you are well aware that it Ron Paul greets co-sponsors Congressman Bartlett ket Committee meetings to Congress, does not take long for the crowd to (left) and Congressman Thompson (right) they are provided weeks after the fact start chanting, “End the Fed!”—someand are edited. thing you don’t hear at other political gatherings. Ron Paul’s 2008 The time has come to end the shroud of secrecy surroundpresidential campaign returned the sound-money debate to the ing the Fed’s operations and hold it accountable to the American national stage and warned our country that a time of reckoning people for how it handles our money. would soon come as a result of the Federal Reserve’s loose monOn Feb. 26, Congressman Paul introduced HR 1207, the Fedetary policy and a Congress that mortgages our future for its own eral Reserve Transparency Act. This bill would require the Govpolitical gain. ernment Accountability Ofﬁce (GAO) to conduct a full audit of In contrast, the mainstream media would have Americans bethe Fed by the end of 2010. lieve that no one could have foreseen the current economic crisis As Dr. Paul stated in his introduction of the bill: and that the free market is the root of all evil in our society. Those “How long will we as a Congress stand idly by while hardwho preach the big-government gospel have wasted no time in working Americans see their savings eaten away by inﬂagrabbing as many unconstitutional powers as the present economtion? ic turmoil will allow them to assume. The Federal Reserve System “…Since its inception, the Federal Reserve has always operstands at the center of these power plays. ated in the shadows, without sufﬁcient scrutiny or oversight Since its inception in 1913, the Federal Reserve System has of its operations. While the convenheld sway over the creation of Amertional excuse is that this is intended ica’s money and credit. This control, to reduce the Fed’s susceptibility coupled with Congress’s allegiance to to political pressures, the reality is Keynesian deﬁcit spending, has rethat the Fed acts as a foil for the sulted in a 95 percent decrease in the government. Whenever you quesvalue of our dollar and a national debt tion the Fed about the strength of approaching $11 trillion. (And that’s the dollar, they will refer you to the before you add in trillions of dollars Treasury, and vice versa. The Fedin unfunded liabilities awaiting us in eral Reserve has, on the one hand, decades to come.) many of the privileges of governThough it was created by Conment agencies, while retaining bengress, the Fed has remained largely eﬁts of private organizations, such unchecked and unaccountable in its as being insulated from Freedom operations. Over the past two years, the Fed has Campaign for Liberty volunteers sort 47,000 petitions of Information Act requests…” loaned out over $2 trillion in taxpayer demanding a Fed audit Note that the GAO has conducted
8 June 2009
limited audits of the Fed in the past, ments and other central banks. With your help, Campaign for which the Fed will use to try to boast “How long will we as a Congress stand idly of its transparency. A close look at Liberty and Young Americans for Section 714 in Title 31 of the U.S. by while hard-working Americans see their Liberty will lead the ﬁght to bring Code, however, reveals the full story. savings eaten away by inﬂation?” - Ron Paul transparency to an institution that According to that section, the GAO has helped to destroy our currency cannot audit, “transactions for or and plunge us into a roller coaster with a foreign central bank, government of a foreign country, ride of booms and busts. Campaign for Liberty has already creor nonprivate international ﬁnancing organization; deliberations, ated petitions in support of HR 1207 for our members to send to decisions, or actions on monetary policy matters, including distheir representatives and senators, and, as funds allow, we plan to count window operations, reserves of member banks, securities run newspaper ads and take to the radio and television airwaves to credit, interest on deposits, and open market operations; transspread the word about this historic legislation. actions made under the direction of the Federal Open Market Within three weeks of its introduction, HR 1207 had attracted Committee; or a part of a discussion or communication among 30 cosponsors, (now it is up to 124, as of going to press) and the or between members of the Board of Governors and ofﬁcers and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee has comemployees of the Federal Reserve System related to clauses (1)-(3) mitted to holding a hearing on the bill. Visit www.Campaignforof this subsection.” Liberty.com to stay current on our actions to get HR 1207 passed As Dr. Paul likes to say, the GAO is allowed to audit the Fed as by the Financial Services Committee and onto the House ﬂoor long as it does not audit anything the Fed actually does. for a vote. HR 1207 would remove these restrictions, allowing a full audit This effort is more than just a philosophical exercise. It is a for the ﬁrst time in the central bank’s history. Its funding facilities, battle we can win. Congressman Paul has led the way, but it is up such as the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, Term Securities Lendto us to ﬁnish the ﬁght. ing Facility, and Term Asset-Backed Securities Lending Facility, would be opened to congressional oversight, and we could ﬁnally Matt Hawes is vice president of programs for the Campaign for Liberty. learn the details of the Fed’s arrangements with foreign govern-
9 Young American Revolution
Tea Parties and Tax Revolts
Americans rebel against pork and big-government
W. James Antle III
hen President Barack Obama ﬂew to buy them liposuction, large-screen TV’s, or Denver to sign the federal stimulus beer for their horses. Others made libertarpackage—price tag: $1.2 trillion, counting ian arguments against the runaway governinterest—into law, not everyone celebrated ment growth on display and the ever exthe momentous occasion. Down the street panding sense of entitlement that fuels it. from the signing site, on the steps of the It’s a tradition that’s as old and American Colorado state capitol, a crowd of 300 gathas the Republic. The protesters in Denver, ered to burn the bill in efﬁgy. Jim Pfaff, a Mesa, and Washington are paying tribute to local taxpayers’ activist, condemned the the Boston Tea Party, an act of rebellion by “economic recovery” scheme as a “Ponzi American colonists against British taxation scheme, Madoff-style.” that eventually culminated in a successful The anti-stimulus protesters dined on Party time. Photo by Eric Slee. war for independence. But anti-tax protests roast pig, which symbolized the more than haven’t been conﬁned to Bostonians dump96 percent of the bill that went toward speing tea in the harbor. Periodic “tax revolts” cial-interest “pork-barrel” spending projects. They chanted, “No have often been a precursor to the electorate’s turn away from big more pork!” and “You don’t know stimulus!” One demonstration government in favor of ﬁscal discipline. leader even held up oversized checks to signify the $30,000 in debt Over 30 years ago, Californians were feeling oppressed by imposed by the stimulus on each American family. growing property tax burdens and the rising cost of government. It wasn’t the ﬁrst time ordinary Americans had taken to the Activists Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann spearheaded a ballot initiastreets to rally against the Obama administration’s massive untive to cap property taxes in the Golden State, thereby limiting the funded federal spending—and wouldn’t be the last. On President’s political class’s claim on the wealth of California’s taxpayers. The Day in Seattle, blogger Keli Carender gathered 100 people deep in Jarvis-Gann Amendment appeared on the state ballot as Propothe heart of Obama country to protest the price of the stimulus sition 13, beneﬁting from deep anti-tax sentiment. Yet the taxpackage and the way it was rammed through Congress without payers’ outrage did not deter a coalition of big business and big meaningful debate. Like the event in Denver, activists wore pig government from mobilizing against the initiative. noses and feasted on pulled pork. They held up signs saying, “Say Former California governor Pat Brown told the Washington Post, no to generational theft” and condemning the “porkulus.” “If I were a communist, I would vote for Proposition 13.” Los CNBC commentator Rick Santelli took to the ﬂoor of the ChiAngeles Mayor Tom Bradley warned that Proposition 13 “will hit cago Board of Trade and railed against the Obama administrathe city like a neutron bomb, leaving some city facilities standing tion’s plan to bail out irresponsible borrowers and lenders alike. virtually empty and human services devastated.” Even the presi“How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors’ mortdent of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce complained gage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?” Santelli that the anti-tax initiative was “a fraud on the taxpayer that will asked, as traders hooted and cheered around him. “I’m thinking cause ﬁscal chaos, massive unemployment and disruption of the of having a Chicago Tea Party!” economy.” Santelli’s idea caught on. By one estimate, more than 150 antiBut the taxpayers still had their say. Proposition 13 passed with spending “tea parties” have taken place throughout the country. 65 percent of the vote as 70 percent of registered voters streamed According to ofﬁcial crowd estimates, 4,000 people turned out for to the polls. Property taxes were slashed by an average of 57 a rally in Cincinnati. Taxpayers protested in Chicago and in the percent across California. The massive layoffs of police ofﬁcers, rain in Atlanta. Tea parties have also sprung up in less conservaﬁreﬁghters, and teachers that were predicted by the proposition’s tive areas, from Cleveland to Santa Monica. Even Washington, opponents did not come to pass. Unemployment across the state D.C. has gotten into the act, with 200 demonstrating in late Februdid not rise. ary right in the belly of the federal beast. Proposition 13 was so successful that it was emulated in anPresident Obama may have awakened a sleeping giant—the other, even more liberal state. At the time, Massachusetts had the American taxpayer. When he traveled to Mesa, Arizona to unsecond-highest property tax burden in the country. Politicians reveil his $100 billion to $200 billion mortgage bailout plan, he was peatedly promised relief in exchange for other revenue sources, greeted by nearly 500 protesters shouting anti-bailout slogans and but property taxes did not come down. “So by 1980,” anti-tax carrying signs. Some facetiously demanded that the government activist Barbara Anderson recalled in the Boston Globe, “we had a
10 June 2009
high income tax, a sales tax, a lottery, and high property taxes.” Not for nothing was the Bay State called “Taxachusetts.” Anderson’s Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government put a referendum question on the Massachusetts ballot that limited property taxes to 2.5 percent of a community’s value and held increases to 2.5 percent a year. Dubbed Proposition 2 1/2, it also cut the automobile excise tax from $66 per $1,000 to $25 per $1,000, provided an income tax deduction for renters, and banned the state from imposing new unfunded mandates on cities and towns. Tax-eaters did not cede money back to taxpayers willingly, however. “Battle lines were drawn: CLT, the Massachusetts High Technology Council, the Massachusetts Auto Dealers Association, and the National Federation of Independent Business against almost everybody else,” Anderson wrote about the Proposition 2 1/2 debate. “Leading opponents were the Legislature, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and other public employee unions, various human service organizations, the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the Catholic Church, and, incredibly, the Massachusetts Association of Older Americans.” Union leaders asked which interested initiative supporters more: “Cutting taxes? Or cutting our throats?” Proposition 2 1/2 passed nevertheless, with the support of 59 percent of voters. Massachusetts voters also went for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984. But the public-sector unions coordinated marches and still tried to oppose the initiative even after it became law. They hoped to persuade the legislature to repeal Proposition 2 1/2. A majority of governors since its enactment have vowed to veto any attempt to reverse or dilute the tax-limiting measure, however, and it still standards almost 30 years later in a state where the forces of big government remain powerful. As with Proposition 13, the dire predictions regarding the state’s economy and basic government services were not borne out by the events. Over the years, comparable initiatives have passed in states as varied as liberal Oregon and then-conservative Colorado. But the tax revolts brewing now differ in some important respects from the ones that led to Proposition 13, Proposition 2 1/2, and the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights. All of those protests, culminating in ballot initiatives, were a reaction to high taxes after they had already been imposed. The Obama administration hasn’t raised taxes yet and hasn’t completely spelled out what tax increases it will seek. The president continues to pretend he will cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people and that the tax increases implicit in his $3.55 trillion budget proposal will be levied against the super-wealthy alone. The Bush tax cuts remain in force until 2011. Today’s tax rebels are sophisticated enough to understand that the bailouts, stimulus packages, and rescue plans can be paid for through deﬁcits and inﬂation only for so long. This government spending will suck resources out of the real private economy now and lead to higher taxes in the long term. In the past, economic conservatives have had to wait for the tax burden to cripple the economy before they could generate any popular outrage. Or they have gone along quietly when Republican presidents have practiced borrow-and-spend economics, as long as a few modest tax cuts accompanied the GOP’s massive new entitlements, record annual discretionary spending increases, and unfunded wars of
choice in the Middle East. Today, taxpayer groups beneﬁt from better organization. There is a highly developed patchwork of state and national organizations willing to sponsor or endorse proliferating tea parties across the country. And networking technology makes it easier for concerned citizens to organize even without establishment support. The D.C. tea party alone had the backing of Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union, and Americans for Prosperity. But it was also substantially put together through a Facebook page set up by conservative journalist J.P. Freire (full disclosure: an American Spectator colleague of this writer), with some promotional efforts by nationally syndicated columnist and pork donor Michelle Malkin and no small amount of Twitter chatter. Organizations like Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty might be able to harness their supporters’ Internet savvy and their ability to build coalitions with anti-bailout progressives that conventional conservatives might have trouble working with. Although for the present even Republican voices seem open to a broader anti-tax and anti-spending coalition: “Now is the time for all good taxpayers to turn the tables on free-lunching countrymen and their enablers in Washington,” Malkin wrote in a recent column. “Community organizing helped propel Barack Obama to the White House. It can work for ﬁscal conservatism, too.” For every tax revolt that is successful, many more are quelled. Just ask the economic libertarians who organized against the escalating costs of the New Deal in the 1930s or the sponsors of the 30 anti-tax initiatives that were defeated the same year Proposition 13 passed. But if this new movement prevails, it could create conditions where “Tax, spend, elect” is a political slogan of the past. W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator.
11 Young American Revolution
The New Left Was Right
The earliest 1960s radicals opposed “corporate liberalism”—much like the Revolution today
ccording to the popular mysomed during the Age of Aquarithology of the mainstream us have become commonplace on conservative movement, the the Right, they are far too broad “New Left” of the 1960s is rein scope. The result has been a sponsible for almost all of this disproportionate demonization world’s current ills. As the story of a multifaceted movement goes, while brave American GI’s whose best instincts and brightest were sloughing through the hell minds were more quintessentially of Southeast Asia, ungrateful colAmerican than much of what lege kids and university brats were passes for conservatism today. burning ﬂags and bras while imThough often remembered bibing every illegal psychotropic as a bicoastal, big-city bonanza substance known to man. The (New York City, San Francisco) war against the Commies went the origins of the New Left lie in south with the culture, and only the American Midwest. The jump Ronald Reagan was successful, if point occurred on June 12, 1962, just temporarily, in saving us from Karl Hess, Goldwater speechwriter and New Leftist when the youthful congregants this endless hippie excess. of a beautifully random piece of Like most great historical myths, ﬂyover country known as Port this one has some slivers of truth. Single parenthood, abortion on Huron, Michigan met to declare their independence from the demand, drug abuse, and much of the hedonistic behavior conmoribund and totally irrelevant consensus liberalism of the Kendemned by the New Right of the Reagan years did explode during nedy era. They represented a marked departure from the Old Left the 1960s. The unintended consequences of the sexual revolution of Soviet apologists and their obnoxious opponents in the anticombined with the rise of organized identity politics to contribute Communist social-democratic center. At Port Huron, an equally heavily to the ascent of the federal welfare state under Presidents fractured but far more spirited authentic Left was born. Johnson and Nixon, as both presidents opposed socialism abroad Though much has been written about Students for a Demowhile embracing it at home. “Yes We Can!” was ﬁrst the cry of cratic Society, the group that met at Port Huron, its rightful place that generation, a legacy that remains with us today. in history has never been fully established, primarily as a result of But what about the other truths, the rest of the story, and the a mainstream media that has consistently glamorized the worst best of the ’60s generation? Were all those students clamoring for aspects of SDS while obscuring its uniquely American charactera democratic society dangerous Marxoids devoid of manners or istics. The early days of SDS have been almost totally ignored, good sense? Could it be that a movement founded on a principled leaving one with the impression that the infamous Bill Ayers had devotion to “free speech,” a ﬁerce opposition to the managerial been the epitome of the group from day one, when nothing could state, and a rigid do-it-yourself ethic lacked any qualities that this be further from the truth. generation’s youthful anti-statists could learn from? For those who associate that era with tear gas and townhouse Hell, no! explosions, the tranquility of the New Left’s opening salvos are Though indictments of the radical youth movements that blosalmost impossible to fathom, as the early stages of the movement
12 June 2009
were deﬁned by a commitment to “participatory democracy.” In the beginning, there was no market for the sort of personality cult that ultimately led to the movement’s implosion. Consensus decision-making was a practiced principle and attempts to address the root of youth alienation were the impetus behind most SDS positions. As former SDS president Carl Oglesby noted in an interview with Reason: “SDS was founded to be a democratic organization, not to be socialist. Its most basic slogan was ‘People Should Be Involved in Making the Decisions that Affect Their Lives.’ That was what SDS was about. Whatever decision gets made, it should be democratic.” Collectivism was unquestionably an implied outcome of the sort of grassroots democracy favored by many of the young activists. But early SDS activism was not the bureaucratic, top-down model of the Old Left. In fact, this New Left was deeply contemptuous of party lines and what their manifesto of principles—the Port Huron Statement—called “politics without publics”: The American political system is not the democratic model of which its gloriﬁers speak. In actuality it frustrates democracy by confusing the individual citizen, paralyzing policy discussion, and consolidating the irresponsible power of military and business interests. In promoting this civic philosophy of volunteerism, the New Left was expanding on Jeffersonian concepts and cultural ideals in line with the thinking of conservatives like Russell Kirk and commonly associated with the Populism that had littered the same Midwestern landscape 60 years earlier. Like their Midwestern Populist forefathers, SDS was deeply suspicious of the Eastern power centers and ﬁnancial institutions that controlled the domestic and foreign policies of the Republic. Though they occasionally overreached and made rash decisions, both Populists and the New Left sought to remove power from Washington and place it back into the hands of local agents who best understood the needs of their communities. Self-declared enemies of “corporate liberalism,” the students at Port Huron had almost nothing in common with the Progressive movement that had taken over much of American Left in the early 20th century. Whereas the Progressives of then and now sought the extension of national power and the aggrandizement of bureaucracy for the “public good,” early SDSers sought to “dismantle the institutions” of social control and beat back the dangerous tide of military statism. The later splintering of the movement into various Maoist sects notwithstanding, the early days of the New Left were spent bitterly opposing such orthodoxies and critiquing the notion that such grandiose concepts could ever deliver on their promises. The oppositional sentiment expressed by the early SDS was foreshadowed in 1956 when the ideological godfather of the New Left, C. Wright Mills released his magnum opus The Power Elite. Like the Port Huron Statement, The Power Elite is an inherently anti-Progressive text that takes a decidedly critical view of the corporatist state. According to the motorcycle-riding, hyper-individualist Mills: As the means of information and of power are centralized,
some men come to occupy positions in American society from which they can look down upon, so to speak, and by their decisions mightily affect, the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women. They are not made by their job; they set up and break down jobs for thousands of others; they are not conﬁned by simple family responsibilities; they can escape. They may live in many hotels and houses, but they are bound by no one community. They need not merely meet the demands of the day and hour; in some part, they create these demands, and cause others to meet them. Whether or not they profess their power, their technical and political experience of it far transcends that of the underlying population. Though such criticisms were uncharacteristic on the liberal-left at the time, many conservatives of the era offered similar critiques of power. To cite just one example, James Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution propounded a theory that closely paralleled Mills’s. Unfortunately for conservatives of that time, Burnham’s ﬁerce anti-Communism led him to embrace the welfare-warfare state. Mills and the New Left did not fall victim to such follies. In exposing the nexus between big business and big government, Mills’s book became a bible of sorts for baby boomers raised on the decommissioned scraps of World War II-era military Keynesianism. The children of the military-industrial complex had come home to roost, as all over the United States opposition to empire both home and abroad emerged as a dominant feature of youth culture. The Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” exploded in the fall of 1964 after the University of California ﬁercely enforced a rule barring political activities that weren’t directly subordinate to the two major political parties. Led by Mario Savio, an amalgamation of libertarians, liberals, conservatives, and all points in-between participated in several protests and sit-ins that resulted in major concessions by the university. In a series of speeches—one of which was made on the roof of a police car holding another member of the FSM—Savio summed up the nature of the beast in a style rarely seen before or since: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus—and you’ve got to make it stop!” The machine being discussed here wasn’t capitalism, it was the superstructure of the modern university and the cult of bigness that propped it up. Such decentralist rhetoric would resound again nearly 50 years later in the presidential campaign of a certain OB/ GYN from the Gulf Coast of Texas. The New Left also intersected with the various organizations and causes that made up the burgeoning Black Power movement. Though ethnic identity movements are often seen as antithetical to libertarian ideas, this myopic view only serves those who wish to stymie real challenges to entrenched power. In the early days of the radical civil rights movement, one could ﬁnd a communitarian spirit sorely lacking in most of the establishment politics of the era, liberal or otherwise. Consider the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party.
13 Young American Revolution
Though the group’s Marxist platitudes and support of Mao would he asked, “or are we ready to go it alone socially, in communibe deeply at odds with libertarians from any period, that troubling ties of voluntarism, in a world more economic and cultural than rhetoric did not necessarily match the reality. Led by the ﬁercely political”? independent Fred Hampton, the Chicago BPP disavowed the culFor conservative opponents of mass democracy, it is notewortural nationalist tendencies of other branches of the party and fothy that the “participatory democracy” of SDS was not mob rule cused explicitly on promoting street autonomy. Though Hampton at all, but an attempt to put the words of men like Hess into acwas not known to shy from confrontation, he publicly disavowed tion. By disengaging from national politics and building a groundthe senseless violence of the Weatherman faction when that SDS up movement, the New Left was seeking a thorough devolution offshoot was still in its infancy. Just at the moment when other of America’s overgrown bureaucracies. The fear of “King Numchapters of the Panthers were decaying into cesspools of violence bers” so eloquently guarded against by James Madison and friends and addiction, the Chicago outﬁt began to implement private welhad no stronger (or stranger) practical adherents than the kids of fare systems and education programs which, not surprisingly, led SDS. When the Weatherman malcontents took to the streets, played to direct conﬂict with state authorities. revolutionary, and destroyed private property, they didn’t win any When Hampton was murdered by the largest criminal gang in recruits. Nor did the phony class-antagonism of the egghead (and the city on Dec. 4th, 1969 there was no punishment for his killers. Maoist) Progressive Labor Party faction of SDS. There never is when the killers are state-sancBy the end of 1968, the squabbling between tioned agents. After Hampton’s political assasthese groups and others led to the total destrucsination, the chairmanship of the state party tion of the movement and the descent of many was taken over by Bobby Rush, the last man to of its adherents into total madness. Given the defeat Barack Obama in an electoral encounter. radical ideas and real threats to power expressed At least the BPP produced someone who could in the movement’s early days, it should surprise beat Obama. What has the GOP given us? no one that government repression played a role Though contemporary accounts tend to sepain this. Still, the ultimate responsibility lies with rate the predominantly white New Left from the those who corrupted an important and thorBlack Power movement, the spirit of anti-auoughly American cause and replaced it with yet thoritarianism was a shared and primary trait of another cause celebre. both. Though the bombastic attitudes and MaoDespite the popular right-wing caricature of ist mania of the Black Panthers eventually led the movement today—or the foolish canonizato that group coming to deﬁne the very worst tion of the post-’68 hippie free-for-all by many aspects of the time, the early Panthers embodleftists—there are many worthwhile lessons to ied the self-determinist localism envisioned by be drawn from the New Left. One could begin many early American conservative icons. The by asking a few questions relevant for our curten-point program of the party included many rent predicament. Must the term “community overtly socialist proposals, to be sure, but its Carl Oglesby’s tale of the New organizer” be seen as a synonym for “commuframework and implementation were a separate Left nist”? Is it really beneﬁcial to embrace bigness matter. and international grandiosity at the expense of To put the Panthers and early New Left in place and local custom? Do movements always have to be judged perspective, how many modern-day proponents of the Second by their worst moments and most foolish ﬁgures? Amendment would actually form citizen militias to patrol the One can rightly criticize the welfare statism of much of the communities they reside in? How many would call for full and New Left or the later excesses of its adherents without abandondirect control over their children’s education? For that matter, how ing the notion that promoting civic values at the local level is an many would seriously question the role of federal power at all? approach worth adopting, cherishing, and promoting. At the very In organizing at the community level, the radical movements of least, surrendering the term “community” to the denizens of the the ’60s touched on a principle often fetishized by conservatives Daily Kos hardly seems like a winning political tactic—or one but rarely practiced. “Home rule” as a cause worth actualizing, with any relationship to the American political tradition conservarather than something slick politicians merely pay lip service to, is tives so frequently tout. a principle that liberty-minded youth ought to take to heart. It is If one were looking to take the best aspects of the New Left this sort of activity alone that can subvert the centralized political and the best aspects of the Old Right and create a fresh political structure, something that will become increasingly necessary if alternative out of them, one would ﬁnd oneself smack dab in the our economic freefall continues. middle of the Ron Paul Revolution of 2008. And this is the best At its heart, the best of the New Left went beyond mere critihope we have. cism of institutions and cut right to the root problem—power itself. In fact, it was a former speechwriter for Barry Goldwater, SDS convert Karl Hess, who provided the simplest explanation of the problem. “Will men continue to submit to rule by politics, which has always meant the power of some men over other men,” Dylan Hales [email@example.com] is a freelance writer from Charleston, South Carolina. His blog, The Left Conservative, can be found at www. leftconservativeblog.blogspot.com.
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15 Young American Revolution
What Young Americans for Liberty can learn from Young Americans for Freedom
Gregory L. Schneider
ne of the most interesting groups was the Intercollegiate developments of last year’s Society of Individualists (ISI), presidential contest was the which dispensed free books to mobilization of young people students and supported the foron behalf of two candidates, mation of conservative clubs Barack Obama, who easily won on campuses. Through the late the election, and Texas con1950s several of these clubs gressman Ron Paul, a longshot helped set the stage for the to win the GOP nomination. Right’s movement into politics. An antiwar, pro-constitutional, A particularly galvanizing issue laissez-faire physician who has was an effort to remove a loyserved 10 terms in Congress alty oath from the post-Sputand was the presidential nominik National Defense Educanee of the Libertarian Party in tion Act. An odd organization 1988, Paul drew more interest with the beneﬁt of hindsight, on campus than any candidate formed by two individuals who save for Obama. While much of had interned at National Review Paul’s support could be traced Students against the state—now and then and Human Events, the Student to his opposition to the wars in Committee for the Loyalty Oath Iraq and Afghanistan, his appeal mobilized conservative students with young people extended far beyond foreign policy. Paul is repon 44 campuses in the fall of 1958 to preserve the loyalty oath in resentative of a growing interest on the Right in returning to ﬁrst the law. The argument of the two founding members, Douglas principles after years of Republican acquiescence to the goals of Caddy and David Franke, was principled—if students received liberal Washington. federal money for education in defense-related coursework in sciOne would have to go back almost 50 years to ﬁnd a similar ence, shouldn’t they be loyal to the Constitution? Their argument student-led revolt on the Right. Ronald Reagan produced loyalty convinced enough politicians to defend the act that the loyalty among young Americans which translated into political support oath was spared. at the polls, as well as for his agenda of building up America’s After that victory, conservative students continued to look for military against the Soviets and revitalizing the economy. Yet his ways they could make a difference in politics. They found one administration never produced the intensity of campus interest in the growing inﬂuence of Barry Goldwater in the Republican engendered by the Paul campaign or by the campaign of Arizona Party. In March 1960, Clarence Manion—radio host and former Sen. Barry Morris Goldwater for the Republican vice presidential dean of the Notre Dame Law School—arranged for the publicanomination in 1960. tion of Goldwater’s book The Conscience of a Conservative, which deBack then, one of the strangest developments in American buted to wide acclaim. Young people devoured the book hungrily politics was the awakening of American youth to principles of and contributed to the cause by organizing Youth for Goldwater conservatism. Two important individuals in this awakening were for Vice President clubs. The drive received support from National Goldwater himself and William F. Buckley Jr., who founded NaReview, and the push was on to get Goldwater nominated for VP tional Review in 1955 and whose writing and celebrity served as a at the August GOP convention in Chicago. But it was not to be. beacon drawing young people towards the conservative principles Richard Nixon had already met with New York Governor Nelson espoused in the early years of his journal. Buckley launched the Rockefeller and had made a deal that liberal Republican Henry magazine out of a desire to combat the regnant New Deal liberCabot Lodge would be his running mate. Conservatives booed alism of American politics—to “stand athwart history shouting when the name was announced, leading Goldwater, in his speech stop!”, as he famously wrote in the journal’s opening issue, Buckto the convention to say, “let’s grow up, conservatives.” He urged ley was a huge attraction on college campuses which (sadly) lacked his supporters to take back the GOP. Young conservatives did as much diversity of ideas then as they still do today. just that. Conservatives had organized youth groups to address the Over the weekend of September 9-11, 1960, at the Buckley paucity of non-liberal ideas on campus. Foremost among these estate in Sharon, Connecticut, a group of around 90 young con-
16 June 2009
servatives from around the country gathered to found a new naGoldwater campaign, YAF continued to function vitally, recruittional organization named Young Americans for Freedom. The ing members, building its movement, and serving as shock troops students and several older conservatives present, dubbed OAFs for the conservative cause. (Old Americans for Freedom) by direct-mail impresario Marvin But as the Vietnam War escalated and the New Left focused Liebman, approved a charter called the Sharon Statement, which on antiwar organizing on campus, YAF began to split. Most YAF was written by Indianapolis News editor M. Stanton Evans en route members were anticommunist and were initially exposed to the to the conference and which stipulated the fusionist vision of the conservative movement through Buckley, National Review, ISI, or conservatives of the 1950s—traditional references to God balGoldwater. So it was no surprise that the majority of YAF memanced by a commitment to free-market economics and support bers remained committed to the Vietnam War. But a growing for the Cold War against international communism. They also number of libertarian students, who often came to their philosoelected a national board and appointed Robert Schuchman as naphy through the writings of Ayn Rand, began to express doubts. tional director and Douglas Caddy as executive director. Some even began to look into alliances with the New Left over What is impressive about Young Americans for Liberty is how the war. They urged an end to the draft, which in fact the great much it has followed this now half-century old script. YAL has a majority of YAF members, as well as YAF advisors like Milton national committee, a statement of principles, and is publishing a Friedman and Russell Kirk, also supported. national magazine (much as YAF published a periodical called The The dispute between libertarian and conservative students New Guard). The goals of the organizaerupted into a purge, however, at the tion are clear and well articulated and by 1969 YAF convention in St. Louis. Libevery measure YAL should prosper both ertarians protested YAF’s position on organizationally and philosophically as the war, and one member incinerated it moves to combat statists of the Left, a replica draft card on the convention Right, and Center and defend individual ﬂoor. Conservative students heckled the liberty in American society. libertarians, calling them “laissez-fairYet as with any student organization, ies,” and there was talk of ﬁsticuffs in it is imperative that the members stay the hotel hallways. Libertarian students away from factional politics and avoid gathered at the St. Louis Arch to prothe conﬂagration of competing interests test the “fascist” tactics of YAF, with and cliques that eventually made YAF a speeches by former Goldwater speechrelatively ineffective organization. writer Karl Hess to rally the assembled Here too, history may be on YAL’s YAL Executive Director Jeff Frazee. Photo by Matt crowd. In the end, many of the radical side. In the early 1960s some competi- Holdridge. libertarians split from YAF, forming Stution existed between YAF, which explicdents for Individual Liberty (SIL). While itly deﬁned itself as a conservative youth organization, and groups short-lived, SIL became the basis for the creation or revival of like the Young Republicans, which were party organizations for a variety of libertarian organizations and institutions outside of young people. And there were other tensions plaguing YAF. In my the conservative movement, including Reason and the Libertarian history of the organization, Cadres for Conservatism: Young Americans Party. for Freedom and the Rise of the Contemporary Right (1999), I document YAF’s internal tumult, at least over ideological differences, the disputes that erupted between the national board and ofﬁcers subsided by the early 1970s, though it remained an organization and the chapters and state boards that were much more activist plagued by factional differences and disputes over power. By the and intent on fulﬁlling the goals of the Sharon Statement. Any 1980s, at the highpoint of conservative institutional power, YAF student organization should avoid what befell YAF early on, the was a shadow of its former self, suffering from charges and counlure of a national board ensconced in comfortable ofﬁces and tercharges of ethical and legal misconduct between national board spending lavishly on privileges it did not need to be effective. members. YAF still exists, but it is hardly the organization it was Eventually, fundraiser Richard Viguerie was brought in to help in the late 1960s, when it claimed as many as 80,000 members in stabilize the YAF national ofﬁce, and he helped the organization hundreds of chapters and had active groups in just about every dramatically, employing techniques such as direct-mail solicitation, state. which he had learned from YAF advisor Marvin Liebman. YAL has a chance to avoid the perils that brought YAF down. Other factional ﬁghts in the early days concerned ideology and First, there will not be competing outside factions seeking to draw political power. Some feared that the John Birch Society was atYAL into their orbit, as was the case for YAF in early 1960s. In tempting to gain control of YAF through a board member named those days, because YAF tried to represent almost the full specScott Stanley. Other leading YAF members even had a dalliance trum of young activists on the Right, every external center of with the forces of Nelson Rockefeller, the liberal New York govpower sought to co-opt it and thereby win control over the next ernor who was eager to use YAF for his own ends—an improbgeneration of conservative leaders. Second, YAL may not so soon able match that garnered laughter and derision from former YAF face the temptations of power and politics that YAF did. YAF members when they discussed it some 30 years later. Fears of board members eventually bought their own national headquarBirch or Rockefeller takeover did not hobble the organization, ters in Virginia. While it turned out to be a decent ﬁnancial investhowever, and for its ﬁrst four years, working on behalf of the
17 Young American Revolution
ment, it never was a good use of resources for a student activist organization. Third, the Internet and better communications may keep factionalism to a minimum in a group like YAL, facilitating understanding between the leadership and base of the group. Fourth, the organization is more focused on liberty and the beliefs of Ron Paul. YAF, like conservatism in general during the 1960s, was discordant, and its many mansions eventually split up once the communist threat diminished. But YAL faces unique dangers, too. Libertarians, as Brian Doherty documents in his splendid history Radicals for Capitalism, tend to be very sectarian. YAL would do well to avoid the chronic sectarianism that beset just about every libertarian group in the 20th century. Anarchists and Objectivists and others should work together to create an effective organization, to build on the principles embodied in YAL’s mission statement. They should be ecumenical, and members should never allow one faction to dominate ideologically, or the effectiveness of YAL’s mission will be diminished accordingly. That is what happened to YAF. Absolute power and absolute ideology tend to destroy, if organizations succumb to them, absolutely. Avoid those pitfalls, learn from history, and YAL should have a bright future. I wish you well. Gregory L. Schneider is Associate Professor of History at Emporia State University and the author, most recently, of The Conservative Century: From Reaction to Revolution (Rowman and Littleﬁeld, 2009) as well as Cadres for Conservatism: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of the Contemporary Right (NYU Press, 1999).
Enemy of the State
rive a few minutes beyond the shadows of central Atlanta’s skyscrapers, past the prostitutes and panhandlers along Ponce, and you will reach Emory University, the land of manicured lawns and marble buildings. And tucked away off the campus quad, you will ﬁnd Donald Livingston, professor of philosophy, lost in contemplation in his ofﬁce, as he frequently has been since 1984. A genteel South Carolinian with tweed coat and full white beard, his ofﬁce in perpetual disarray and stacked with books by dead white men, Livingston is both the quintessential Southerner and the quintessential philosophy professor—but with a twist. He is a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow but also an associate at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a Ron Paul supporter who has spent much of his career addressing what he calls the “moral, legal, and philosophical meaning of secession.” Read: defending the right to secede and condemning that Great Centralizer, Abraham Lincoln. Livingston founded in 1998 and still helps run the Abbeville Institute—named after fellow South Carolinian John C. Calhoun’s hometown—in order to promote the study of Southern culture and values. The institute’s purpose is not to play cheerleader in some regionalist competition or (if I may assuage the fears of the miseducated) to promote racism or slavery. The
Emory’s Donald Livingston champions the cause Leviathan fears most—secession. Kelse Moen
values that it advances are “private property, place, piety, humility, manners, classical liberal studies, rhetoric, and the importance of a human scale to political order.” In short, conservative values. The conservative or libertarian college professor is a rare breed. But here at Emory, Livingston is an even greater anomaly. He’s a voice of conservatism on a campus where, to the extent that people care about politics at all, they are progressive by default; here, at bottom, the highest value is oneself. Livingston will spend hours talking to students about Calvinist philosopher and theologian Johannes Althusius on a campus where people are always on the go. Emory is no place to cultivate what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things”: we are nothing if not impermanent. We are a collection of individuals on our way to somewhere else, whether to business school or medical school or law school, and Emory is just an impressive notch on our belts, a credential for future admissions departments. In this sense, Emory melds perfectly with the city of Atlanta itself, the city which was razed by General Sherman’s marauding army, only to be replaced by a skyline of shiny new buildings, populated by ambitious business professionals by day, yet empty by night. At Emory, the Yankee invasion never stopped. We’re awash in would-be fashionistas from Long
18 June 2009
Island, fratboys from Massachusetts, and legions of amoral, highA government of a few hundred elected ofﬁcials presiding over intensity business schoolers. The result is that we have no shared a country of 300 million is simply dysfunctional, Livingston says. culture of our own. It can no more function as a republican government than a ﬁveToss into this mix me: a studious philosophy major from Bosstory tall man can function as a healthy human being. Thus, if we ton. In the fall of my junior year, I happened to sign up for a class want to reform government, we have to start dividing it. This is called Philosophy of Law taught by one Dr. Donald Livingston. I where Livingston differs from most mainstream libertarians. They was a Northerner whose primary libertarian inﬂuence at the time don’t think about the politics of size and proportion—only about was Ayn Rand, and Livingston’s class blew my mind. ending the war in Iraq or the Fed or the PATRIOT Act. “But Livingston believes that the divided society is the best society. even if we get rid of the Federal Reserve,” Livingston remarks, “The more masters we have, the freer we are,” he says. “And that “the ruling class will still ﬁnd a way to get what it wants.” They is the most we can hope for.” Originally, that is what the whole have the power “to push one button and make 300 million people American Constitution was about. We would have a central govjump,” and that power cannot be diminished just by doing away ernment in Washington to ensure free trade with its emanations. Only by physically diamong the states and provide for the comviding power via secession or federalism can mon defense, but all other powers were left we regain control of ourselves. to the states, and within the states power But there’s another reason to support was divided between the cities, towns, and, division, Livingston says. Liberty requires in most, the church. The beneﬁts here came a virtuous people, and the seeds of moral from the fact that the masters would be in virtue are in the family and the commuperpetual squabbles with each other and no nity. They are the institutions that raise us, single master would gain enough power to and the character we develop in youth is oppress the rest of us. the character that will guide our conduct But that ended with the Civil War, which throughout our lives. The virtues that we Livingston calls “the real American revolulearn from family and community are virtion.” Unlike the 1776 revolution—a contues of affection, self-worth, and personal servative revolt that kept our traditions and rectitude. They instill in us virtues that make system of government intact and sought the State and all its enticements unnecessary. only to throw off a power that betrayed Who needs a welfare check when you were them—the Civil War effected a fundamental raised to work hard and know that, should change in American thinking. It shifted powﬁnancial catastrophe hit, you have caring er decisively and forever out of the hands of neighbors to fall back on? Livingston’s libthe several states and into Washington. And ertarianism is the libertarianism of Burke, while some of President Lincoln’s more draHume, and Tocqueville—the libertarianism conian wartime measures—issuance of ﬁat that actually begets liberty. It comes from money and suspension of habeas corpus Livington’s Philosophical Melancholy and people who see themselves as participants in Delirium for instance—ended when the war did, the a moral universe, people who can clearly see system was by then in place to bring them right from wrong, who know that stealing back whenever our betters in Washington so desired. Later, of and murder are wrong whether they are committed by street-corcourse, they would so desire, and there was little any of us could ner thugs or agents from the IRS or CIA. do about it. That is the type of virtue in which we can only be raised. But This is why secession is so important. Nothing sends a message the State can better proﬁt from weak and isolated people with no to power so well as literally leaving—and taking your land with strong moral values. Libertine “libertarians,” who just want the you. Thus for all those who genuﬂect before the altar of state freedom to have an abortion, practice witchcraft, or take LSD, are power, secession must be crushed. And it has been crushed, as in fact the perfect subjects for an oppressive State. Seeing themLivingston readily admits. Now, whenever we consider division, selves merely as individuals with desires to be satisﬁed rather than we panic, he says. But this wasn’t always the way. The Declaration as moral actors, and incapable of seeing the value of the tradition of Independence is a declaration of secession from Britain. In in which they live, they fall into the pit of moral relativism and the 1850s, the city of New York considered leaving the Union to self-indulgence. And no one is so easily dominated as he who bebecome a free-trade city, and New England threatened secession lieves there are no values worth defending. in 1804, 1808, and 1812. Maine, Kentucky, and Tennessee were There will still be those who claim that the central government created by seceding from other states. When Jefferson bought has been a force for good; that without it we never would have the Louisiana Purchase, he never expected the Union to extend abolished slavery, or ended segregation, or achieved equal rights from “sea to shining sea.” He assumed that new states would form for homosexuals. Even many conservatives and libertarians have but then secede from the larger whole, creating their own unions come to think of government as, if not a source for good, at least with distinct governments but that would be bound together by a the arena in which our liberties are to be won. The yelps of joy shared culture in an “empire of liberty.” from Beltway libertarians when the Supreme Court tossed gun owners a few crumbs in last summer’s Heller decision are testa-
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ment to this, as are the hordes of enthusiastic young conservatives who descend on the Imperial Capital for CPAC every year with grandiose plans to purge our Arlen Specters and Olympia Snowes and bring real, conservative values back to Washington. But as Dr. Livingston taught me, the very idea of legislating conservatism from above is fundamentally unconservative. The conservative order has to come from below, from our distinctive, organic communities. And although the central government has been able to squelch some of society’s uglier sides, are we really better off ? Lincoln abolished plantation slavery, but he replaced it with the slavery of the income tax and the military draft. Whatever “gains” we make by appeal to Washington have the ultimate effect of increasing central power and turning the rest of us into beggars, palms out, asking, “Excuse me, sir, could you spare some rights?” Donald Livingston may be living at the wrong time. We are at the zenith of centralized power, which doesn’t seem to be decentralizing anytime soon. But then again, while the imperial worker bees buzz around the capital planning wars and bailouts under the immortal marble gaze of the Great Centralizer, forever enthroned before the National Mall, there are those of us, far away in a province he once conquered, who want to know what liberty really means. There’s never been a better time to learn the answer. And Livingston, the genteel old philosophy professor, can teach us. Kelse Moen is a senior at Emory University. His column appears regularly in the Emory Wheel.
The Revolution Comes to CPAC
Amid the has-beens of movement conservatism, Ron Paul stages an insurgency. Patrick J. Ford
nown across the right-wing still bears repeating: two major election spectrum as the most important defeats, the end of a horrid Republiweekend for conservative activism, the can presidency, a colossal forfeiture Conservative Political Action Conferof principle on the size and scope of ence (CPAC) was held in Washington, government, and dogmatic ties to an DC for the 36th time this past Februunsuccessful and unpopular war are ary, and with it came the Right’s legmerely symptoms of the intellectual islative and philosophical baggage. In rot plaguing the GOP and its establishits previous two years, the three-dayment mouthpieces like National Review long CPAC felt like a pep rally for the and The Weekly Standard. Conservatism GOP and its demagogues. “Bush is my limped into CPAC this year in search homeboy” T-shirts were big sellers at of its base and itself, a wandering McCPAC ’07 and ’08 while small governCandless, equal parts earnest and arment Republicans like Ron Paul and rogant, self-conscious and conﬁdent. Mark Sanford were ignored in favor Dr. Paul educates CPAC. Photo by Matt Holdridge. Rather than aiming into Jon Krakauer’s of Dick Cheney and John McCain. “wild,” it searched for a way out of the President George W. Bush was the “highlight” of CPAC 2008. Yet wilderness and into the mainstream it had already entered and Cheney, McCain, and Bush were nowhere to be found this year. exited, having left nothing but bloated bureaucracy and thouFor those of us who attended in the past, CPAC 2009 felt akin to sands of war casualties in its wake. To borrow from a tired and arriving on the other side of Alice’s rabbit hole. Orwellian slogan of the Left, was CPAC representing change, or By now the plight of modern conservatism is well known but more of the same?
20 June 2009
Inside the Omni Shoreham Hotel, registration tables were loBut if the CPAC attendee found his way to the adjoining Young cated outside the main exhibit hall, where numerous right-wing Americans for Liberty and Campaign for Liberty tables in the groups set up shop and were assigned spaces. From PalinPAC to exhibition hall, he found himself in an entirely different atmothe National Riﬂe Association to Young Americans for Liberty, sphere. As typical as it may seem for an article published by YAL it is hard to argue that intellectual diversity was not present at to speak fondly of the organization’s presence at CPAC, it was the Omni Shoreham. But CPAC had humored the libertarian and clear to every attendee, friendly and unfriendly alike, that the entraditionalist Right at previous conferences, too. The Libertarian ergy, enthusiasm, and creativity of the members of YAL and C4L Party has had a presence at CPAC for years, as has the Ameriwere unmatched throughout the conference. “You’re here loud can Civil Liberties Union. Ron Paul was given a speaker’s slot in and proud, that’s for sure,” said a polite younger woman wearing 2008 only to be upstaged by an establishment candidate (Romney) a Palin 2012 T-shirt. conceding the Republican nomination to another establishment C4L handed out literature and sold liberty-promoting merchancandidate (McCain). Just as the GOP trots out the abortion issue dise while YAL sported a “Pop the Fed” dart game featuring colorto draw cautious pro-lifers to the polls—regardless of whether coded balloons for contestants to burst, with prizes correspondthe GOP has accomplished anything of substance on the issue— ing to the color of the balloon. Fake ﬁat currency was handed out CPAC has always given the alternative Right just enough attention for one color, while candy (gold) was handed out for another, with to ensure that when we go to the ballot box, noses held, we pull the big prize for hitting a smaller balloon being a Ron Paul-signed the lever for the lesser evil. Constitution. The point came across loud and clear, and was easily Initially, CPAC 2009 felt the same. An attendee, upon enterone of the most popular activities in the exhibit hall. ing the exhibit hall, was greeted by “I feel like I’m in occupied territoa host of dubious right-wing caricary,” said a YAL volunteer at the close tures: the College Republican hack of Day 1, and his sentiment seemed sporting slicked hair and pinstripes; shared by his colleagues. Senator Jim the Palin clone, beautiful in a shortDeMint spoke in the morning on skirt and dumb as a bag of hammers; Friday, Day 2, and DeMint, though a the prep-school neocon working the neocon through and through on forYoung America’s Foundation table, eign policy, is as eloquent a Senator still angry as hell despite eight years one will ﬁnd on economic matters. of war and no end in sight; the slick Senator Coburn followed, though his businessman—a successful moverpresence was not as exciting, thanks and-shaker—far too old to be there to his notable sellout on the Wall and only stopping in before his apStreet bailout. One of the lows of pointment at the massage parlor. The CPAC was Newt Gingrich’s speech. vitriol directed at Premier Obama It was familiarly pompous to anyone was palpable, and those who were si- The YAL and Campaign for Liberty booths at CPAC 2009. who has seen him speak before, but Photo by Matt Holdridge. lent during the big-government Bush the real spectacle was his entrance— administration and its gross expansion of the State now drew eyean arrogant exercise in self-adulation where he entered from the rolls from those of us who spoke out at the time as they now back instead of the front (as every other speaker had) in order to harped endlessly on about small government. draw the drooling masses around him as he slowly made his way At least initially, the speaker list did not inspire. On Thursday, to the stage. It was a dark event to witness ﬁrsthand. John Bolton spoke before lunch with characteristic acrimony But Day 2 brought shafts of light as well. In anticipation of and took part in a book signing for his latest work, the bellicose Ron Paul’s speech to the CPAC ﬂoor, a serpentine line wrapped Surrender is not an Option. Joe (the Plumber) Wurzelbacher was a itself around the whole of the hotel. Even after the room reached guest on a panel discussing new media strategies for conservafull capacity, which it did well before Paul appeared at the podium, tives. Mike Huckabee was the ﬁrst major political ﬁgure to speak hundreds of people patiently waited in line for a chance to see the this year, and he decried the selﬁshness of a GOP that is far too man that sparked the energetic and eclectic “R3volution” of the dedicated to capitalism, without deigning to elaborate on his non2008 GOP primary. “They’re waiting for Romney!” shouted a desensical assertions that free enterprise is to blame for the country’s tractor working for the American Conservative Union. It was not economic mess. Dozens of Joe and Jane Sixpacks sat in an auditrue. As far back as the very end of the line, Paul supporters could torium to watch “Sarah Palin: Unplugged on the Media,” while be found, including two young men in their Citadel uniforms arTucker Carlson, the only speaker of substance so far, was booed guing with a civilian “chickenhawk” who believed soldiers should during a panel addressing the Fairness Doctrine because he sugbe ﬁghting and dying half a world away from home. “There must gested conservative media outlets should put as much effort into be bullshit in the water,” said the neocon as he retreated from the getting their facts straight as liberal ones do. All of these events argument, leaving the two Citadel students shaking their heads. and speakers, clearly pushed by the establishment Right, would At least the confrontation took place. Were it not for Ron Paul, suggest that the conservative movement is as likely to ﬁnd itself these small but representative conﬂicts over the future of the reformed as any member of the Podhoretz family is likely to join movement would not have been in evidence. When he rose to the U.S. Marine Corps. speak that became clear to everyone in attendance. He argued that
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the Republicans, once in power, were as bad as the Democrats had been. He argued that the Federal Reserve, not the free market, was principally to blame for the ﬁnancial crisis. He spoke of how empire and policing of the world expand and empower government. And no one booed. In fact, he was “greeted with thunder” according to a neoconservative blogger. “It’s good to be among friends,” said Paul, and those of us who fought through the Giuliani cackles and Fox News jeers of the campaign couldn’t help but smile. Ron Paul was among friends at CPAC. Paul’s speech was to be upstaged, but only by the very movement he had sparked. Campaign for Liberty held its Liberty Forum on the night of Day 2, a standing-room-only event packed with liberty donors and featuring Judge Andrew Napolitano, historian Thomas E. Woods Jr., constitutional attorney Bruce Fein, director of Gun Owners of America Larry Pratt, president of National Right to Work Mark Mix, and the headline speaker, Dr. Paul. The room was electric, featuring an educated crowd that booed the Alien and Sedition Acts as well as President Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and George W. Bush’s notorious PATRIOT Act. Thomas Woods addressed those who had awoken from the “eight years drunk” of the Bush years “with a hangover” and welcomed them into the movement for liberty. But if those on the Right were going to “defend bailouts and bank nationalization, and tell us how sadly necessary it all is, or defend Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve, as if that has anything whatsoever to do with a
free market,” he had a message for them: “Get out of the way!” The crowd erupted. Those in the room who “held liberty in their hearts,” as Judge Napolitano said, couldn’t help but leave with a renewed sense of optimism. The liberty movement—an eclectic set of traditionalists, antiwar Republicans, libertarians, and anarchists—may be relatively small. But it is loud. It is educated. The liberty movement is, in the immortal words of Howard Beale, “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” Day 3 brought Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Rick Santorum, and that familiar sinking cynicism that those of us on the alternate Right have become quite accustomed to. Back to the usual. But it remains to be seen whether the story of liberty’s resurgence in the conservative movement will have such a dark ending. The “Pop the Fed” games need to turn into policy papers and magazine articles and books and campaign speeches if the conservative movement is to be reoriented for good. This work is in the hands of the young radicals who manned the YAL and C4L tables. They will determine whether great men like Ron Paul will be “among friends” when they arrive at events like CPAC in the years to come. Patrick J Ford is a senior at the George Washington University, where he is editor of The GW Patriot. He blogs at northernagrarian.wordpress.com.
22 June 2009
Who Owns You?
The philosophical justiﬁcations for liberty
t doesn’t require much philosophical arguis a mere matter of opinion that this outcome ment to see that to launch a war in Iran would be a bad thing? Supporters of the factwould be a bad idea or that to turn our econvalue gap have counterarguments, and I won’t omy over to Obama and his minions has little go further into the debate now. But at the very to recommend it. Many people have come to least it isn’t obvious that the gap exists. realize that something is radically wrong with If Rothbard is right about this, how do we our customary American politics, and libergo on to arrive at libertarianism? Rothbard, tarianism, ably represented on the national taking his cue from Aristotle and St. Thomas scene by Ron Paul, has aroused great interest. Aquinas, maintained that a system of preAccording to libertarians, the role of governcepts—natural law—could be derived from ment should be reduced to a minimum, if not the needs of human nature. But he had to eliminated altogether; economic affairs, in parconfront an obvious objection. Aristotle and ticular, are impeded rather than helped by the St. Thomas, though philosophers of the highheavy hand of the state. Given its sharp break est distinction, were hardly libertarians. How with conventional political views, the question did Rothbard then propose to get libertarian inevitably arises: does this way of looking at conclusions from their framework for natural politics rest on a sound philosophical basis? law? To some people, this query rests on a misRothbard’s response to this question posed apprehension. One cannot properly inquire a fundamental challenge to an inﬂuential thewhether libertarianism, or any other political sis defended by Leo Strauss. In Natural Right system, is true or false. Questions of fact have Murray N. Rothbard, Mr. Libertarian and History, Strauss contrasted classical natural an objectively true answer: we can estimate, right to its modern successor. Classical natue.g., how likely it is that Iran will obtain a nuclear weapon; and, ral right stressed virtue and was oriented toward the polis, i.e., the if it does, whether the device is likely to be used against us. We relatively small city-state. Strauss held that modern natural right, as cannot, though, factually say whether it is good or bad that Iran found in Hobbes and Locke, broke with virtue and put in its place acquire this type of weapon. We may not want it to do so, but the individual pursuit of power and wealth. It was not concerned this merely is a preference. It makes no more sense to claim that with the good of man as the Greeks understood that notion. it is objectively better that Iran not obtain an atomic bomb than Rothbard emphatically disagreed. Though he had little use for to insist that vanilla ice cream is objectively better than chocolate. Hobbes, he thought that Locke had developed classical and meTo think otherwise is to commit the supreme sin of inferring a dieval natural law in a new and fruitful direction. Locke took selfvalue from a fact. David Hume long ago exposed this fallacious ownership to be the key principle of political philosophy: each pseudo-inference. person had the right to dispose of his own body and labor as he But is it really a fallacy? Murray Rothbard, the foremost 20thwished. (One complication: Locke thought that at the most basic century libertarian and a major intellectual inﬂuence on Ron Paul, level, God owns everyone. It is only as regards other human bedid not think so. In his Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard, following Leo ings that each person owns himself. You do not have to answer Strauss, argues that Hume made a mistake. (As we will see later, to others how you understand God’s commands, but you do not Rothbard and Strauss diverged sharply on other matters.) Suphave the right to kill yourself.) Further, individuals could acquire pose that you are waiting in line for a movie and, just as you are land by laboring on it: once someone did so, he had the right to about to reach the cashier, someone jumps ahead of you. Surely exclude others from using his property. Property acquisition, on it is right to say that he has behaved rudely. There are objective this view, does not depend on the state for its validity: property criteria for rudeness, and our miscreant’s act qualiﬁes. Thus it is rights exist in the state of nature. a “fact” that he is rude; but is it not also true that using the term In placing so great an importance on individuals and their rights, “rude” carries with it a negative value judgment? The gap has disLocke did not, pace Strauss, break free from classical natural law. solved. He too addressed himself to the needs of human nature. For another example, let us return to Iran and nuclear weapons. On this foundation of self-ownership, libertarianism quickly Suppose that atomic war between America and Iran resulted in the follows. Once given individuals and the rights to property they deaths of millions of people. Is it really reasonable to say that it have acquired, no room remains for any other sort of rights. In
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particular, there are no welfare rights. To claim that the poor or disabled had a right to help would be to aver that their inﬁrmities made them the masters of the labor and property of their more fortunate fellow citizens. Rothbard certainly did not deny our moral duty to be charitable. (In this respect, he differed from the egoist ethics of Ayn Rand.) Rather, what concerned him was the proper use of force, in his view the deﬁning topic of political philosophy. The duty to be charitable was one of many moral obligations that one cannot use force to compel people to fulﬁll. What happens, though, if you think that Hume was right? Suppose that there is a gap between facts and values and, accordingly, natural law in Rothbard’s style must go by the board. Are there still good philosophical arguments for libertarianism? To answer this, it is imperative to grasp a key point that people often miss. Even if you cannot derive values from facts, it does not follow that ethics reduces to arbitrary preferences. There can be ground level, objective moral truths. In other words, some moral truths do not have to be derived from facts about the world. Just by thinking about these moral claims, we can grasp that they are true. (This position in philosopher’s trade talk is called “intuitionism.”) Aside from his main natural law arguments, Rothbard in Ethics of Liberty also deploys intuitionist considerations. Isn’t it obviously true that slavery is morally wrong? As Lincoln, not a favorite among libertarians, rightly said, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Rothbard argued ingeniously that if you reject slavery, and think through the implications of your rejection, you will see that you must embrace libertarian self-ownership. If it is wrong for some people to own others, what but self-ownership is left? Alleged third alternatives, such as contemporary democracies that fail to recognize full self-ownership, reduce to variants of slavery. In an unlimited majority-rule democracy, the majority “owns” each person, taken as a separate individual. If you are drafted into the army by virtue of democratically sanctioned legislation, you are just as much a slave as if someone had bought you in a slave market. Yet another type of moral theory can be used to support libertarianism. We have so far considered attempts to derive moral truths from facts about human nature and claims that moral propositions can directly be seen to be true. Some philosophers try to justify morality in a different way. Are there truths of morality that reason requires us to recognize? Kant and his successors answered with a resounding yes. Just as someone who afﬁrms both sides of a contradiction has violated a requirement of theoretical reason, so someone who refuses to accept the “categorical imperative” has transgressed a demand of practical reason. The details of Kant’s argument need not detain us. I mention him only to provide the necessary background to understand the argument advanced by one of Rothbard’s most important followers, Hans-Hermann Hoppe. In his Economics and Ethics of Private Property and other works, Hoppe offers a strikingly original argument in defense of libertarian conclusions. (He arrived at this argument by modifying work of his teacher Jürgen Habermas and of Karl-Otto Apel, both philosophers with very different political views from Hoppe’s.) Hoppe defends self-ownership by asking us to consider what happens if someone denies it. He says that anyone foolish enough
to do so is caught in a “performative contradiction.” One could not make the statement, “I do not own myself ” unless the statement were false. Just as one cannot say, “I am now dead” unless one is not now dead, so one cannot deny self-ownership without being a self-owner. In order to make any statement, Hoppe claims, one must own one’s own body. His argument has generated much interest and controversy among libertarians, and whether he is right, you will have to judge for yourself. His argument stands squarely within the Kantian tradition: a principle of morality is held to be a requirement of reason. He derives other tenets of libertarianism using the same strategy, as readers of his books will see. I have tried to show that several different approaches to morality can be used to support libertarian conclusions. One cannot ignore the fact, though, that most contemporary political philosophers reject libertarianism. Why do they do so? The most common reason for skepticism about libertarianism is an argument found in the most inﬂuential book of the 20th century about political philosophy. In A Theory of Justice (1971), John Rawls assailed what he termed the “natural system of liberty.” In a libertarian society, what you earn depends on the money that people are freely willing to give you for your services. People with greater natural abilities, who are talented in ways that people value, will fare much better than people less well endowed with these gifts. Rawls contends that this disparity is “arbitrary from the moral point of view.” Tiger Woods earns millions of dollars because of his superlative golﬁng skills. He did not acquire these skills through moral merit: he just happened to be born with extraordinary athletic aptitude. Rawls thinks that Woods does not deserve to make more than his less talented competitors. Inequalities, according to Rawls’s famous “difference principle,” are allowable only to the extent they beneﬁt the worst off. If Woods is allowed an exceptional income, e.g., he will work more than he otherwise would. Doing so will make available more funds for redistributive taxation. Rawls’s Harvard University colleague Robert Nozick gave the best answer to Rawls in his Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). As he points out, Rawls treats individuals’ abilities as if they belonged to society collectively. Since, in Rawls’s opinion, you do not deserve to proﬁt from your natural abilities, the value of these abilities belongs to “society”—in effect, to the state. Such collectivism ill comports with the liberty that Rawls elsewhere in his book professes to defend. But Nozick strikes at Rawls with another, though related, fatal thrust. If one strips individuals of their talents and abilities, holding them to be morally arbitrary, what is left? Nothing but a bare self without attributes: any individual property will be deemed the product of arbitrary inﬂuence from heredity or the environment. The proper subject of political philosophy, Nozick holds, is people as we really ﬁnd them, not selves run through a sieve to drain them of what Rawls thinks they do not “deserve.” If several promising arguments support libertarianism, and the main consideration advanced against it utterly lacks merit, is there not excellent reason for everyone who recoils at our present political morass to give this philosophy his utmost attention? David Gordon is a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and editor of The Mises Review.
24 June 2009
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The Trouble With Burke
The ﬁght for liberty must be radical, not counter-revolutionary
dmund Burke, the late 17th-century libertarians would like to acknowledge. British statesman who denounced the I should ﬁrst note that there is nothing French Revolution, has long been a towconservative, and certainly nothing inherering ﬁgure in the conservative pantheon. ently Burkean, about the irresponsible belBurke has recently been especially favored licosity and governmental aggrandizement by those few conservatives who opposed we experienced during the Bush years. America’s messianic social-engineering efRussell Kirk, arguably Burke’s most promfort in the Middle East and who wish to inent American expositor, noted long bereturn to a more humble, humane foreign fore they directed American foreign policy policy. It is easy to see why Burke is so much that the neoconervatives “have been rash beloved by antiwar conservatives and many in their schemes of action, pursuing a libertarians: his blistering critiques of the fanciful democratic globalism rather than Jacobins and their “metaphysical dogma” the true national interest of the United can be just as easily applied to modern-day States.” Kirk based his opposition to the ideologues (such as the neoconservatives) neoconservative ideology of “democratic who wish to remake the world in the image capitalism” on Burkean principles. of their own abstract ideas. But if Kirk was right, and the neocons Nonetheless, advocates of liberty and Was Edmund Burke unprincipled? are not really authentic conservatives, how peace do themselves a great disservice did they come to control the Republican by holding fast to Burkean principles. In Party and the American Right? Part of the the May 2008 edition of The Atlantic, liberal columnist Jonathan answer can unfortunately be found in the defects of Burkeanism Rauch, no friend of conservatism, compared the perpetually belitself, particularly that form of Burkeanism promoted by Kirk. ligerent Sen. John McCain, who was then running for the RepubThe notion that American conservatives follow an intellectual lican presidential nomination, to Burke. Rauch may have been tradition begun by Burke has become axiomatic. But this was not closer to the mark than most self-described Burkean conservaalways conventional wisdom. The American Right’s fascination tives would care to admit. with Burke can largely be traced back to 1953, when Kirk pubTo most antiwar conservatives and libertarians, Rauch’s argulished The Conservative Mind. This work, like many since, rooted the ment must seem patently absurd: war-mongering Republicans eaorigins of modern Anglo-American conservatism in Burke, who ger to spread democracy at gunpoint are far more intellectually and provided a framework for “the politics of prescription.” temperamentally similar to French revolutionaries like Condorcet Kirk noted that Burke’s political conservatism was based on and Robespierre than to the traditionalist Burke. Many traditional prudence and convention, rather than on abstract principles. conservative arguments against neoconservative madness are, afBurke believed public policies should be founded upon tradition, ter all, built on appeals to Burkean principles of prudence and but he chose not to speculate as to any speciﬁc tradition’s oriorder. Yet it would be a mistake to dismiss Rauch’s point cavaliergin, declaring, “There is a sacred veil to be drawn over the beginly. McCain and other mainstream Republicans represent Burke’s nings of governments.” Conservatives can ﬁnd much to admire in principles better than most pro-liberty, anti-war conservatives and Burke’s work, and his Reﬂections on the Revolution in France—a literary
26 June 2009
assault on the Jacobins—remains one of history’s ﬁnest attacks on political radicalism. What we must remember, however, is that in Burke’s time, the status quo in England was culturally conservative and the government was comparatively limited in its powers. That being the case, his defense of tradition and precedent was also a defense of civilization and liberty. Yet even if we admire Burke for what he said and did in his time, an important question remains: does Burke provide advocates of liberty with sound guidance today? To answer that, it is useful to look back to those conservative writers who disputed Burke’s indispensability. Richard Weaver, a contemporary of Kirk’s and like him one of the most important postwar conservative writers, was disturbed by the American Right’s Burkean turn. Weaver presciently noted that adopting Burkean principles and rhetorical techniques would eventually rob the Right of its coherence. Burkean rhetoric, according to Weaver, can be properly described as the “argument from circumstance”: This argument merely reads the circumstances—the “facts standing around”—and accepts them as coercive, or allows them to dictate the decision. If one should say, “This city must be surrendered because the besiegers are so numerous,” one would be arguing ... from present circumstances. The expression “In view of the situation, what else are you going to do?” constitutes a sort of proposition-form for this type of argument. Such argument savors of urgency rather than perspicacity; and it seems to be preferred by those who are easily impressed by existing tangibles.
viathan has inveigled its way into every aspect of our daily lives. A new explosion of state power during the Obama administration will not represent a radical break with tradition—it will be as American as baseball and apple pie. Deference to precedent was a key component of Burke’s political philosophy, and in that regard, McCain and the other ineffectual mainstream Republicans are far more Burkean than small-government, antiwar conservatives and libertarians. As Rauch noted when praising McCain for refusing to challenge the status quo: The best way [to balance individual rights with social order], for Burke, was by respecting long-standing customs and institutions while advancing toward liberty and equality. Society’s traditions, after all, embody an evolved collective wisdom that even (or especially) the smartest of individuals cannot hope to understand comprehensively, much less reinvent successfully.
One may argue with Rauch as to the degree to which Burke desired “equality,” but the rest of his description is accurate. The bloated government spawned by the New Deal and a century of hot and cold wars is now a longstanding institution. Is anyone therefore surprised that the Left now appeals to Burke when discussing domestic policies, and the neoconservative Right invokes Burke when excusing and expanding our empire? The neoconservatives may be dangerous ideologues, and liberal Democrats may be power-hungry socialists, but can anyone honestly say that they break with American political conventions? Russell Kirk warned American conservatives This form of argument was Burke’s hallto be wary of ideologies, preferring instead Burke’s anti-Jacobin masterpiece mark. It has also been the most commonplace the Burkean reliance on vague principles and style of argument among American conservatradition. It is time to acknowledge that Kirk’s tives. In the past 60 years, the Right has “pruadvice is useless to us. If we want liberty and dently” abandoned one city after another to besiegers on the statist peace, we cannot rely on tradition, prudence, or arguments from Left. American conservatives may still have a political army on the circumstance to provide them for us. We need rhetoric founded ﬁeld, but, in the name of prudence, expedience, and a “big tent,” on ﬁrst principles, and true advocates of liberty must be committhey have surrendered every great citadel and now ﬁnd themselves ted to winning and governing on those foundations. with precious little to defend. In The Betrayal of the American Right, Congressman Ron Paul has provided an example of this kind Murray Rothbard noted that the Right in America once stood of leadership and rhetoric. Paul and his supporters stand on their fast against the welfare-warfare state. Conservatives have since principles, tradition be damned. Unlike Burke or contemporary abandoned that position. At the close of Bush II’s administration, mainstream Republicans, he is not “easily impressed by existmainstream conservative Republicans stood for nothing but pering tangibles.” He unashamedly declared his most recent book a petual war and imperialism and had lost all interest in combating “manifesto,” a word historically embraced by revolutionaries. Tragovernment growth. Regrettably, their positions can now be justiditional conservatives, who, like Kirk, instinctively bristle at such ﬁed on Burkean grounds. rhetoric, had better get over their horror if they sincerely wish Since World War II, the American Empire has steadily expandto regain lost liberties. Paul’s outspoken extremism, not Burke’s ed. The “foreign entanglements” the Founding Fathers warned thoughtful discretion, is the American Republic’s only hope for us against have become a ﬁxed part of the political landscape, revival. Tradition now only serves tyrants—we need a revolution. and there are few living today who can remember when this was not the case. At home, despite a half-dozen Republican presidents George Hawley [firstname.lastname@example.org] is a student at the University of expressing devotion to vague ideals of “limited government,” LeHouston.
27 Young American Revolution
Who Killed Our Economy?
eltdown, by Thomas E. Woods Jr., is a concise and compelling account of the origin of the economic collapse. Relatively comprehensive despite its brevity, Meltdown is perfectly accessible to the novice, providing insight into the economy at a time when it is needed most. Americans have been ﬂoored by this ever-deepening recession. They have defaulted on mortgages, lost their jobs, and seen their investments disappear practically overnight. So the Obama administration is playing mother, waiting with a box of cookies, a gallon of milk, and a cabinet full of medical supplies, ready to do whatever it takes to bandage up their scrapes and bruises. But as Woods’s account of the recession shows, the government not only misunderstands the economic crisis but caused it, and Obama’s actions are only deepening and prolonging it with a fruitless and costly strategy. Our political masters are responding to the crisis with vigor, backed by what they perceive as electoral mandates. They believe that they can put bandages on the American people and throw them back out into the economy. But the economy is burdened by a monetary system that doesn’t work, a government that impedes the free market, and a central bank that has carte blanche to distort interest rates and economic conditions. Fixing this mess will not be painless, and government efforts can only impede the market reconﬁguration that needs to take place. Woods, an adherent of the Austrian School of economics and a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Instiute, explains why the economic landscape is so unstable. It all comes down to market interventionism. Woods’s primary goal in Meltdown is to put Austrian theory and its application to the crisis into an easy-to-understand package. One obstacle to confronting the crash, according to Woods’s diagnosis, is that the government has designated the economy as a subject that only the intellectual few can understand. The problem is that these people—the government, the Fed, and those economists who make excuses for them—are the very ones who ignited the crisis in the ﬁrst place. Meltdown is a smashing success—accurate, lucid, a joy to read.
Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse Thomas E. Woods Jr., Regnery Publishing, 194 pages Christopher Best
At times I wanted to run across the quad and throw it at people, yelling, “Read this!” The only trouble was that I couldn’t stop talking about it for weeks. Meltdown provides enough facts and details for any person to understand the economic crisis and the forces behind it. And Woods provides answers to the most pressing questions. For example, did greed kill the economy? Meltdown explains why the usual scapegoats do not provide a sufﬁcient explanation for the market’s downfall. The prevailing opinion on the economic collapse—I say prevailing only in the sense of popularity—is that corporate greed and lack of government regulation were the primary causes of the collapse. But as Woods and several other economic writers have noted, “blaming the crisis on ‘greed’ is like blaming plane crashes on gravity.” Greed is a constant. Greed exists in any economic setting. In fact, economists count on people to be greedy. Economics operates on the axiom that every individual makes decisions that he believes will be proﬁtable—decisions whose beneﬁts for the individual outweigh the costs to him. People are always looking to make more proﬁt (whether that proﬁt is ﬁnancial or merely psychological). In the classroom, these people are called economically rational. But on the political stage, they are called thieves. Human nature did not change within the last several years. The economic collapse did not result from sudden surge of unchecked greed. In truth, the economy cratered not because people were too greedy but because the government created opportunities that would not have existed in a free market, and ordinary people— from small businessmen to corporate leaders to salary-men—took advantage of the possibilities created by artiﬁcially low interest rates. The guilt here falls not on the economically rational, who saw opportunities to make proﬁt and indulged in them legally. Rather, the blame belongs with the government that created those opportunities in the ﬁrst place. Of course, to deﬂect attention from itself, the government likes to point to individuals such as Bernie Madoff, who destroyed
28 June 2009
his investors’ wealth with a Ponzi times not-so-silent) secondary agenda. The ancillary objective of scheme. But people like Madoff have “Human nature did not change within the this book is to proselytize for the always existed and always will. The last several years. The economic collapse Austrian School and criticize those Madoffs of the world represent so did not result from sudden surge of who write it off as an impure scismall a portion of the population ence for being grounded in logic unchecked greed.” that the pretense that they could ruin rather than statistics. Meltdown ofthe economy is absolutely ludicrous. ten attacks, explicitly or otherwise, other schools of economic Government also casts aspersions against a corporate culture thought. This does not detract from the overall quality and accuwhere executives can make a hundred times more money than racy of the work, however—non-Austrians will also beneﬁt from their employees. The government wags a ﬁnger (guess which one) reading it. at speculators and “Wall Street wiz kids.” And statists bring forMeltdown, all 194 pages of it, is the perfect counterargument ward the usual suspects: the rich. They point to people who prosto the mainstream’s perception of our economic problems. Inpered during the economic crisis and call them unpatriotic, even stead of White House rhetoric from Barack Obama, regurgitated indecent. Keynesianism from the liberal media, or Republican contrarianism But the real culprits are not the risk-takers who exploited the from Fox News, Meltdown gives the reader a thoughtful analysis of economic climate. In fact, those people are necessary for the the crisis, consistent with the highly articulate views of the Auseconomy. Woods reminds us that speculation “performs an imtrian School. Meltdown is ideal both for the economically savvy and portant social function, making the economy more efﬁcient by for those who don’t consider economics to be their forte. If you’re speeding the pace at which prices adjust to coordinate supply and like me, you’ll swallow the book in a day and then come back to demand.” But in this case, the speculators expedited the inﬂation it again and again. Woods provides facts enough to ground his in the housing market—not because they were acting irrationally theory in reality without diluting his message. The book is fascibut because the Federal Reserve had altered market forces. nating and comprehensive, with each contention leading naturally So why did the economy really collapse? into the next, building a nigh irrefutable argument against central The greatest strength of Meltdown is Woods’s comprehensive economic planning and government interventionism. explanation of the reasons behind the crash. Woods points to many factors, including the Community Reinvestment Act, the Christopher Best, a student at Occidental College, blogs at http:// Bush administration’s push for an “ownership society,” the moral revolutioneconomics.blogspot.com. hazard implicit in “government sponsored enterprises” (GSE’s) such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and, most important of all, the manipulation of interest rates by the Federal Reserve. Through all of these institutions, government worked to expand credit. The Austrian School of economic thought teaches that the boom and bust cycle of the economy is the result of such artiﬁcially expanded credit. Woods provides a brief and incisive summary of how the business cycle works. He argues that the only way for a “cluster of errors” to occur is through economic planning by a central bank. When a central bank lowers interest rates, it necessarily deﬁes the natural conditions of the market. When interest rates are set low by the market, that indicates that people want to invest now in long-term projects and spend money later. Low interest rates often lead ﬁrms to make farsighted investment decisions. But when these rates are deliberately set low by the central bank, businesses receive a misleading signal. By lowering the interest rate, the central bank aims to incentivize ﬁrms to undertake long-term projects. But to support longterm investment, consumers must postpone purchases they could have made in the present; their savings provide a supply of “loanable” funds to ﬁrms. When interest rates are artiﬁcially lowered without this increase in savings, ﬁrms will make long-term investments that cannot be supported or completed. “If the Fed manipulates the interest rate, we should not be surprised to observe discoordination on a massive scale,” writes Woods. The aforementioned “cluster of errors” can only occur when the Fed lowers interest rates. For all its virtues, Meltdown is hindered by a silent (and some-
29 Young American Revolution
Conserving the Constitution
Defending the Republic: Constitutional Morality in a Time of Crisis Bruce P. Frohnen and Kenneth L. Grasso, eds., ISI Books, 352 pages Mark Nugent
n American politics, everyone claims to be on the side of the Constitution. A return to our constitutional Republic was, of course, the predominant theme of Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and is central to the alternative Right that has coalesced in its wake. But mainstream politicians also claim to follow the Constitution, despite their support of unbridled judicial lawmaking, farreaching regulation of virtually all economic activity, and global imperial crusades. Even a sincere call to return to the plain meaning of the Constitution may yield more questions than answers. How is the document to be interpreted, what commitments does it imply for us as a nation, and what is the nature of the Republic that it was designed to govern? George W. Carey, professor of government at Georgetown University, has dedicated his career to addressing these questions. Carey is arguably the pre-eminent constitutionalist conservative alive today. Edited by Bruce Frohnen and Kenneth Grasso, Defending the Republic: Constitutional Morality in a Time of Crisis is a collection of essays examining Carey’s thought and offering reﬂections on some of the primary themes of his scholarship. The editors’ introduction and Frohnen’s essay “George Carey on Constitutions, Constitutionalism, and Tradition” together provide a penetrating overview of the full range of Carey’s academic work. Carey began his scholarly career by working closely with the political theorist Willmoore Kendall, who was a prominent, if unorthodox, ﬁgure in the post-World War II conservative movement. After his mentor’s death in 1968, Carey assembled a series of Kendall’s lectures, ampliﬁed by material of his own, into The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition, a classic text that remains indispensable for understanding the religious and philosophical matrix that gave rise to the Constitution. A symbol, in this context, refers to a concept or commitment by which a people conceives of its purpose in history. In Basic Symbols, Carey and Kendall examine the political tradition of the early American Republic by tracing the evolution of its symbols through the history of the colonies, beginning with the Mayﬂower Compact. These basic symbols eventually expressed themselves in the Constitution, The Federalist, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. The “ofﬁcial literature,” as Carey and Kendall term our erroneous modern-day understanding, holds that our supreme ideals as a nation attain their archetypal expression in the Declaration of Independence: the equality of all men and their possession of sacred,
inalienable rights that cannot be abridged by government. The Constitution, according to the ofﬁcial narrative, is a reactionary document—its various checks and balances were constructed to thwart the democratic will of the people and the egalitarian impulses that underlay the Revolution. But the Bill of Rights was soon engrafted onto it, supplying a legal commitment to individual rights. This is where we get the idea of America as a unique “propositional nation,” founded upon abstract, universal ideals, rather than an actual set of communities bound to a speciﬁc place, time, and culture. According to Carey and Kendall, “the supreme symbols of the American tradition,” as they were understood at the time of the Founding, are “the symbols of a virtuous people through deliberative processes striving to achieve and advance their declared purposes which involve, inter alia, better ordering with justice”—that is to say, the common good. While the legislature is not constrained by formal rules (what Madison called parchment barriers) concerning the protection of individual rights, it is restrained by its commitment to deliberation, consensus, and just laws. This commitment expresses itself in the Constitution through structural features that are designed to foster deliberation and consensus and to discourage oppressive measures from being passed by bare majorities. Moreover, while no exact boundary between state and federal authority is spelled out in the Constitution, the authority of Congress is limited to certain speciﬁc areas, leaving the states a broad measure of autonomy to govern themselves as their citizens see ﬁt. In short, the Constitution as it was originally understood “is clearly nomocratic in character, largely concerned, that is, with providing rules and limits for the government through which the people express their will,” according to Kendall and Carey. But in the modern conception, “the Constitution is increasingly viewed from a teleocratic perspective as an instrument designed to fulﬁll the ends, commitments, or promises of the Declaration.” The modern regime, in other words, prizes egalitarian ends over structural and procedural means. Carey’s career can be seen as a sustained defense of the older, “nomocratic” understanding of the Constitution and an examination of its corruption into our modern “teleocratic” regime. In his scholarship on the Constitution, Carey pays particular attention to The Federalist, which he sees as an essential source for determining the intended operation of the federal government and its proper
30 June 2009
relationship with the states. The Federalist also sheds light on the “constitutional morality” that provides tacit rules for the operation of government unstated in the text of the Constitution, such as the respect and restraint each branch of government should show towards the prerogatives of the other branches. In the early Republic, the legislature expressed the deliberative sense of the people, and therefore naturally predominated over the other branches. But the task of representation was not restricted to the legislative bodies, as Gary Gregg writes in his essay “No Presidential Republic: Representation, Deliberation, and Executive Power in The Federalist Papers.” While representatives bring “a knowledge of the conditions and interests of their local constituency,” the Senate, being “further insulated from the passions that may from time to time sweep through the people ... introduces order and stability.” This leaves the presidency, through the power of the veto, to check “improper laws” and defend constitutional institutions from attacks emanating from imprudent congressional majorities. The derailment of the American political tradition, however, has resulted in a presidency that has attained vastly expanded power and initiative. This derives from a messianic aspect of our latter-day political tradition: an idealized America is presented not as a virtuous people enacting wise policy through deliberation and consensus but as a centralized state led by “an apostolic succession of great leaders,” each moving America closer to an egalitarian ideal. A particularly belligerent messianic ideology stemming from the corruption of our political tradition is neoconservatism, which Claes G. Ryn examines in his contribution to this volume, a trenchant essay titled “Neo-Jacobin Nationalism or Responsible Nationhood?” Despite their appropriation of the term “conservative,” the neoconservatives’ ambition to put the United States at the forefront of a global democratic revolution places them decidedly toward the left end of the political spectrum. Ryn labels them “neo-Jacobins,” after the radicals of the French Revolution, who also saw themselves as the vanguard of a violent struggle to liberate mankind—to force men to be free. The neoconservative movement ﬁnds itself unconstrained by a respect for the Constitution or for the culture and traditions from which it arose. Despite the elevated rhetoric of neoconservative ideology, “the will to power is throwing off inner and outer checks,” Ryn writes. “Neo-Jacobinism is ultimately an ideological front for the desire to dominate others.” While the neoconservatives primarily direct their aggression toward those hapless foreign populations stubborn enough to resist “American values,” the modern Supreme Court focuses its destructive powers on the American people themselves. The judiciary has enabled the dramatic centralization of power in the federal government, and through its decisions on such issues as school prayer, criminal justice, and abortion, it has removed some of the most critical and contentious issues we face from the purview of legislative deliberation. In his essay “Rights in a Federalist System,” Francis Canavan attempts to trace the philosophical origins of the liberationist ideology that animates the Supreme Court’s self-imposed role as the interpreter and guarantor of an ever-expanding sphere of individual rights (administered, of course, by a vastly powerful central-
ized state). Canavan believes the roots of this development lie in the social contract theories of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. These theories view “civil society as a mutual nonaggression pact.” But by removing decision-making power from states, towns, and other sources of authority such as churches and families, centralization and judicial activism actually degrade those intermediate institutions. “As the late George H. Sabine said,” Canavan writes, “the absolute sovereign and omnicompetent state is the logical correlate of a society which consists of atomic individuals.’” The ideology that forms the core of liberationist Supreme Court decisions can also be seen as a triumph of one side of a cultural divide over another, as Kenneth Grasso argues in “Religious Pluralism and the American Experiment: From Articles of Peace to Culture Wars.” Colonial America was religiously pluralistic in the sense that a wide variety of sects found their home there, but operated under a broad cultural consensus informed by the basic tenets of Christianity that they shared. To accommodate the religious diversity of the United States, and to provide a measure of “civic unity” despite this diversity, the concepts of federalism and limited government left the resolution of contentious moral issues in the hands of states, local communities, and churches. The First Amendment is an expression of the “articles of peace” that place decision-making on moral and religious questions outside the purview of the central government, whose authority extends only to secular matters. But the growth of both centralized, unlimited government and cultural secularism has undermined this consensus. For one thing, the dramatic expansion of government into such formerly private spheres as health care and education leads to intensiﬁed debate and strife over issues such as abortion and religious observance in schools. Additionally, the “massive expansion of federal power and a dramatic decline in the power and autonomy of state governments” robs “localities of their authority to handle matters at the very core of their being.” Much of this newly centralized authority emanates from the Supreme Court, “an institution signiﬁcantly less equipped to succesfully navigate the treacherous waters of policymaking in a pluralist society” than legislative bodies. In sum, the usurpation of legislative powers by the judiciary and the displacement of state and local decision-making by centralized authority are both causes and symptoms of the disorder of our current regime. Young Americans for Liberty and other institutions of the freedom movement are now attempting to return to our constitutional moorings. The deeply disordered conception of our system found in progressive and neoconservative notions has come to be institutionalized in our government and deeply entrenched in the popular consciousness. Any kind of restoration of our old constitutional norms will be a formidable task indeed. Reviving the American Republic will require a deep and textured understanding of the Constitution and the civil society for which it was created. Such an understanding requires renewed and continuing attention to the work of scholars such as George Carey and those who build upon his thought in Defending the Republic. Mark Nugent is an attorney and Web designer living in Arlington, Virginia. He blogs at spinline.net/blog.
31 Young American Revolution
Art for Survival’s Sake
The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution Dennis Dutton, Bloomsbury Press, 279 pages Jeremy Lott
enis Dutton is a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, but he’s had a greater impact on the American academy than any dozen professors who have toiled their whole careers in the United States. Dutton founded the journal Philosophy and Literature, which frequently made headlines with its annual Bad Writing Contest. The idea was to mock turgid scholarly writing and thereby shame profs into using language in such a way that intelligent people could understand what the hell they were talking about. In 1998, the award went to University of California, Berkeley post-structuralist philosopher Judith Butler for this peach of a passage: The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power. If you didn’t make it all the way through that or get the gist, don’t feel bad. As Dutton wrote when he was bestowing top honors on Butler: “To ask what this means is to miss the point. This sentence beats readers into submission and instructs them that they are in the presence of a great and deep mind. Actual communication has nothing to do with it.” It’s the academic equivalent of “Ignore the man behind the curtain!” As enjoyable as Philosophy and Literature was, it was the growth of the Internet in the late ’90s that really made Dutton’s name. The most famous and most enduring of his online projects is Arts & Letters Daily (www.aldaily.com). These days, the site is owned by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Arts & Letters Daily grew out of Dutton’s “Phil-Lit” e-mail list. The simple site’s motto is veritas odit moras—truth hates delay. Six days a week, the site’s three news columns bring readers the latest in “ideas, criticism, [and] debate.” News sites pine for a link from the Drudge Report. Academic journals and opinionated outlets pray for an Arts & Letters Daily teaser. These are short squibs followed by a link to the article. A
teaser of this review might read: “What matters more: that a book is enjoyable or that its argument proves correct? …more>>” That was the question that bounced around this critic’s highly evolved brain like a long game of box ball as I read The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. The argument probably should matter more. But it’s rare to read a book aimed at a highly literate audience that is this laugh-out-loud funny. The experience turns what would have been an obvious answer into a moment of sober philosophical reﬂection: facts or funny? Hmmm. And by funny, I mean mordant and deadpan. Dutton gives us funny because it’s obvious: “Medicine began from a pretheoretical understanding of health and disease; as a developed discipline, medicine has produced sophisticated theories and clinically effective cures, but not in ten thousand years has it abolished the ordinary distinction between robust good health and feeling nauseated or bleeding to death.” And funny because it’s unexpected: “In order to better understand how innate instincts interact with cultural traditions, I want to turn to another powerful universal instinct that has clear cultural implications: incest avoidance.” Dutton gets so much right about so many subjects that one is tempted to concede the central argument of his book as thanks for not wasting our time. He doesn’t even get around to pressing his case seriously for over a hundred pages. The ﬁrst half of The Art Instinct is a quarrel about art in which Dutton cuts the knees off of a host of art critics, anthropologists, and vulgar multiculturalists who insist that art is culturally constructed and that there can be no aesthetic universals. In refuting this, Dutton is by turns analytical and scathing. Analytical: It’s true the art instinct manifests itself differently in different cultures, Dutton concedes. He further acknowledges that some modern art is so weird that it really is suspect. But he comes up with 12 criteria that form a rough cross-cultural answer to the question, “What is art?” Art, he explains, involves (1) “direct pleasure.” It takes (2) “skill and virtuosity,” a sense of (3) “style,” and (4) “novelty and creativity” to produce. It is open to (5) “criticism” and involves (6) “representation” and (7) “special focus.” Arts are a channel for (8) “expressive individuality” and combine (9) “emotional saturation” with (10) “intellectual challenge.” Artistic reﬁnement is furthered by (11) “art traditions and institutions.” Arts are an (12) “imaginative experience,” above all. Scathing: In chapter 4, “But They Don’t Have Our Concept of Art,” Dutton shows how critics who argue such things are con-
32 June 2009
fused about foreign cultures and often astonishingly ignorant of their own. “Despite the fact that jyonti paintings [by women from Uttar Pradesh] are straightforward, colorfully stylized depictions of Hindu mythological themes ... [anthropologist Lynn] Hart insists on using ‘producer’ instead of ‘artist’ and ‘visual image’ instead of ‘art’ to refer to this work (if it is ‘work’),” Dutton writes. He insists, sensibly, that if images look and function like art then they are, in fact, art. If you were inclined to believe that art is entirely culturally constructed, you will probably be less so after reading the ﬁrst half of The Art Instinct. Art is just too much a part of the history of mankind, in every era and every civilization, to deny Dutton’s argument. Tastes and traditions vary wildly. But with the exception of some excesses of modern art—think Andres Serrano, or Duchamp’s urinal—we can all recognize plays, movies, carvings, paintings, embroidery, poetry, decoration, storytelling, and the like as art. There does indeed appear to be an art instinct, or set of instincts, that form an important part of human nature. Huns, Britons, and even neoconservatives can recognize this brute fact. Where Dutton is less persuasive, however, is in his theorizing about where the art instinct came from. The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould argued forcefully that much of what makes us human is not an evolutionary adaptation but a by-product of that adaptation. According to Gould, our large brains are the adaptation, and most of human culture is what painter Bob Ross would call a “happy accident.” Gould admitted that we do have some instincts but contended that we are free from most evolutionary pressures that limit other animals. Dutton counters that humans are far more hardwired and that most of our circuitry was installed by evolutionary developments during the Pleistocene period. The human capacities that
make art possible were preserved from this prehistoric era because they proved useful in survival and reproduction. It’s ironic that Gould’s politics were of the Left, while the more deterministic Dutton is something a classical liberal. Dutton might well be right, but it’s hard to know for sure. Stephen Colbert made light of Dutton’s highly speculative arguments when he interviewed the author on the “Colbert Report.” When Dutton talked about the survival and reproduction advantages of our ancient ancestors’ imaginative abilities, Colbert quipped that cavemen “were using their imagination. Like imagine what it would be like to not be devoured by a saber tooth tiger. What would that be like? Think big!” and asked, “Is everybody doing art just to get laid?” Colbert also asked, “Mr. Dutton, is there any chance that I am art?” Sometimes the most unfair questions are the best ones. Dutton’s perspective is informed by a school of thought called “evolutionary psychology” that tries to understand the mind through the lens of human evolution. This approach has led to some important insights. But even Dutton admits that some speculations of evolution psychology are far-fetched. He cites one example of linguist and evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker—who blurbs this book—tripping all over himself in attempting to explain how storytelling can confer evolutionary advantage. Dutton believes Pinker erred by reducing stories to their morals—after all, he argues, it would be fairly easy to drum those morals into people’s heads without the stories. Yet Dutton may be embarked on a similarly reductionist project. The Art Instinct wants us to understand art as a product of human evolution but, like Gould, I suspect there’s much more to it than that. Jeremy Lott is author of The Warm Bucket Brigade: The Story of the American Vice Presidency. His blog is JeremyLott.net.
33 Young American Revolution
We Don’t Need Another Hero
Alan Moore’s Watchmen remains a stirring warning against absolute power
ou can tell a work of ﬁction is inﬂuSoviet Union plunge toward seemingly inential when other writers are still grapevitable nuclear annihilation. pling with its implications nearly a quarter The main point of divergence between of a century later—usually with limited our 1985, which turned out comparatively success. well, and the 1985 of Watchmen is the exSince its publication in the mid-1980s, istence of Dr. Manhattan, the one cosWatchmen has been the poster child for tumed hero in the story who possesses supop art that transcends its origins. Havperhuman abilities. With Dr. Manhattan’s ing garnered accolades usually reserved help, the U.S. wins the Vietnam War, a for highbrow literary ﬁction, Watchmen is victory that Nixon uses to become all but the reason we now refer to comic books as president for life. The Soviets, meanwhile, graphic novels. It birthed countless newsregard Dr. Manhattan as such a threat that paper stories with unfortunate headlines they’re willing to risk nuclear war to avoid like “Bam! Pow! Comic books aren’t just U.S. domination. for kids anymore.” It changed the aesthetDr. Manhattan, in short, changes evics of superhero comics, both for better erything. As one character in the graphic and for worse. And this year, of course, novel observes, “It is as if—with a real it inspired a major motion picture that, live Deity on their side—our leaders have if nothing else, perplexed audiences exbecome intoxicated with a heady draught pecting the next “Dark Knight” or “Iron of omnipotence-by-association, without Man.” realizing just how his very existence has While “Iron Man” and “The Dark deformed the lives of every living creaKnight” both deal with issues of power ture on the face of this planet.” and corruption, they ultimately side with Dr. Manhattan is the literal embodiWatchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons their vigilante protagonists. Superheroes, ment of amoral power. Following the those movies tell us, are a good thing. accident that gives him his superhuman “Watchmen,” however, remains admirably faithful to its source abilities, he gradually becomes more and more removed from his material and comes to a different conclusion. Its costumed cruhumanity. Time, for him, has no real meaning because he can see saders are, at best, powerless when it comes to doing good and, past, present, and future simultaneously. As a result, death has no at worst, make the world a far more dangerous place. If, as Lord meaning for him, either. Thus he is the perfect tool for the politiActon said, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts cians who seek to exploit him. absolutely, then unaccountable superhumans with near God-like The U.S. government in Watchmen maintains a monopoly on powers are not necessarily a good thing. Like a powerful central superheroes. A law bans costumed adventurers except for those government that is able to dominate local governments or an imwho work for the state, namely Dr. Manhattan and the more agperial presidency that co-opts powers properly belonging to Congressively amoral Comedian. The only masked crimeﬁghter workgress, superheroes upset existing power structures. “Who watches ing illegally is Rorschach. the Watchmen?” is a question with no obvious answer. Of the characters in Watchmen, Rorschach comes closest to beIt is little surprise, then, that anti-statists have latched onto ing a libertarian, although Moore’s portrait of libertarianism isn’t Watchmen, claiming it, along with the works of Ayn Rand and exactly ﬂattering. Rorschach is brutal, malodorous, and, most imRobert Heinlein, and the 1960s cult-favorite television series “The portantly, psychotic. Moore bases him on The Question and Mr. Prisoner,” as part of libertarianism’s artistic canon. A, two characters created by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko, The graphic novel, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by an adherent of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. Despite his Dave Gibbons, is set in an alternate 1985 in which the existence antiauthoritarianism, Moore is still a man of the political Left, of superheroes has turned the United States into a virtual dictaand his Rorschach is a not-at-all-subtle critique of Ditko’s “righttorship. President Richard Nixon, having engineered the repeal wing” libertarianism. of the 22nd Amendment, is in his ﬁfth term, and corruption and There are positive character traits hidden beneath Rorschach’s chaos are rampant. As gangs terrorize the streets, the U.S. and the psychosis, however. Rorschach believes in truth and justice, and
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he is uncompromising in his pursuit of them, which is why he continues to work outside of the law even after the government criminalizes costumed vigilantism. He is, whether Moore likes it or not, the moral center of Watchmen, and readers—not just libertarians—gravitate toward him. Rorschach may be insane, but at least he sticks to his principles, even in the face of death. Even as Moore’s Rorschach was capturing readers’ imaginations in 1986, Frank Miller’s daring interpretation of an old mainstay was doing the same, and for the similar reasons. Published at about the same time as Watchmen, Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns covers many of the same themes and is no less inﬂuential. It casts a middle-aged Batman in the Rorschach role of uncompromising individualist and Superman in the Dr. Manhattan role of government stooge. Yet despite the dark tone of both works, the similarities between Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns end there. Moore’s only solution to the problem of Dr. Manhattan is for his superman to leave Earth, abandoning humanity to its own fate. Miller, however, has faith in superheroes, so long as it is the right superhero. Miller’s Batman is a quasi-libertarian anarchist, a genius who, like the characters in Rand’s novels, uses his brain to thwart the brute, physical power of Superman and the state. Miller’s version of Batman as an ordinary man prepared to stand up to seemingly omnipotent power has endured, inspiring everyone from libertarians to politically apathetic comics fanboys to subsequent Batman writers. The libertarian/Randian themes are even more explicit in Miller’s 2001-2002 follow-up, The Dark Knight Strikes Again. In the sequel, Miller introduces Ditko’s The Question as a mouthpiece for Objectivism, of sorts. The difference here is that Miller’s version says, “I’m no Ayn Rander! She didn’t go nearly far enough!” But can antistatists put their faith in even a libertarian superhero? The treatment of Batman post-Miller raises lots of red ﬂags. Just as Miller’s Batman developed a contingency plan to take down Superman, Batman, as portrayed in more recent comics, has formulated plans to deal with just about any superhero who, for whatever reason, might go bad. Unfortunately, time and again, Batman’s plans have fallen into the wrong hands, with disastrous results. For example, in the recent series Countdown, Batman creates Brother Eye, an artiﬁcial intelligence to watch over all of Earth’s superpowered heroes and villains. As one might guess from Brother Eye’s Orwellian name, this ends badly when a covert government agency takes control of the AI for its own purposes. As a new generation of comic-book writers embellishes the ideas Moore and Miller ﬁrst explored, it seems there is need for a critique of even “libertarian” superheroes. Ultimately, even superheroes who operate without government sanction, so as to preserve their independence and integrity, run into problems because they still serve a law-enforcement function. They’re still appendages of the state, if only unofﬁcially. Marvel Comics’ recent Civil War story arc illustrates the point. After a battle in which a team of young superheroes accidentally kills 600 civilians, the political leaders in Marvel’s ﬁctional universe take a page from Watchmen. They pass a law banning all costumed superheroes except for those who agree to register with and work for the federal government. The Superhuman Registration Act splits the superhero community, with pro-registration heroes lin-
ing up behind Iron Man and anti-registration heroes backing Captain America. Although it is never spelled out explicitly in Civil War, the proregistration side has a point. What are superheroes anyway, except unauthorized, unaccountable law-enforcement agents? Superheroes don’t obtain search warrants. They don’t read suspects their Miranda rights. If they screw up, they don’t face disciplinary action. And it’s almost impossible for a wronged party to sue them for misconduct. Just try serving a court summons to the Hulk. In short, all of the real-world problems associated with police misconduct are potentially worse when it comes to superheroes. They exist outside the rule of law. Against that possibility, the Superhuman Registration Act seems, in libertarian terms, the lesser of two evils. Of course, the lesser evil is still evil. Any law that can be abused eventually will be abused. In our world, Republicans constantly pass laws they would never trust Democrats to enforce and vice versa. Each side, when out of power, complains that the other is abusing the powers of government. Yet when they swap places, the incoming party never repeals the laws that the other side abused. In the Marvel Universe, Iron Man currently ﬁnds himself on the outside, on the run and wanted for crimes he didn’t commit. Meanwhile, the villainous Green Goblin, in his civilian identity of Norman Osborn, has become leader of the government’s registration effort. If there is any consolation, it’s that Iron Man may have learned his lesson. For all their efforts, no one writing superhero comics has yet come up with an answer to Moore’s critique of superhero power. Moore’s own solution isn’t really conducive to writing ongoing superhero comics. He sends Dr. Manhattan packing. Dr. Manhattan decides to leave our galaxy—end of story. When all else failed, Moore opts for abolition, which is, of course, what one would expect of any anarchist, of either the left-wing or the anarchocapitalist variety. Perhaps that is why Watchmen maintains its resonance with libertarians, despite Moore’s antipathy toward much of libertarian thought. Unlike Miller, Rand, Ditko, and others who gave us idealized libertarian supermen who could ﬂy in and save the day, Moore takes a more radical, yet more realistic approach. His heroturned-villain, Ozymandias, is named so as to evoke the image of the broken idol in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem of the same name. Essentially, Moore is telling us to put not our faith in idols, even if they’re wearing a smile and spandex. The “Watchmen” movie and the renewed interest in the graphic novel couldn’t have been better timed. Several comic-book artists have taken to depicting President Barack Obama in superheroic terms. Alex Ross’s painting of the president striking a Superman pose emblazons posters and T-shirts. Spider-Man and Obama do the ﬁst bump in a recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man. And for his part, the new president seems happy to play up his heroic image, as when he posed with the statue of Superman in Metropolis, Illinois. Whatever your politics, if you’ve grasped the message of Watchmen, images like that ought to have you worried. Franklin Harris (email@example.com) is a writer and editor based in Alabama.
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36 June 2009
Liberty at the Oscars
The award for pro-freedom ﬁlm of the year goes to...
Note: This article contains spoilers for several ﬁlms, so proceed with caution. 2008 was a good year for ﬁlm, particularly the types of ﬁlms that typically win over Oscar voters: dramatic, serious, and at least ostensibly profound. The release schedule from late October to the end of December was more jam-packed with these movies than any time in recent memory. But it was not just the Oscar-season releases that grabbed the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this year. A superhero movie—a genre that usually isn’t even mentioned in the same breath as “the Academy Awards—received eight nominations and even managed to grab one of the major awards with the late Heath Ledger winning Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his disturbing portrayal of the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Most importantly for our purposes, however, is that a number of Oscar contenders featured libertarian themes. Some of these themes were explicit. Any libertarian can appreciate seeing a president who grossly abused his powers get his public comeuppance (“Frost/Nixon”), the struggle not to be harassed by the government for whom you sleep with (“Milk”), and the exposure of a corrupt and unchecked police force by scandal (“Changeling,” about which much more below). But in several cases, the libertarian ideas in these ﬁlms are not so evident. To take the most prominent example, consider the Oscars’ big winner, “Slumdog Millionaire.” If you are still unfamiliar with the story, it follows the travails and ultimate triumph of Jamal Malik, an orphaned boy from Mumbai, in his quest to reunite with the girl of his dreams by winning on India’s most popular game show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” In one of the more unbelievable aspects of the movie, it is revealed that Jamal knows the answer to each successive question because of different pivotal events in his life that just happen to come in handy in chronological order. Essentially, “Slumdog Millionaire” is Horatio Alger set in India, and like an Alger story, it requires a strong dose of the suspension of disbelief, but it also serves to reinforce the market-oriented values of hard work and perseverance. As Jamal and his brother Salim grow up without their mother, they live as street urchins and meet Latika, the girl who will serve as Jamal’s love interest throughout the movie. All three are eventually discovered living in a landﬁll and taken in by a seemingly kind man named Maman, but it is quickly revealed that Maman just takes in street children to form gangs of beggars to work the streets of Mumbai. Eventually, he decides to put out one of Jamal’s eyes because one-eyed children receive more money, but Jamal is saved by the daring actions of Salim, and they both escape, leaving Latika behind. Maman is one of the ﬁlm’s primary villains, and by casting him as such, the ﬁlm shows that begging and crime are not the path to a good life. This lesson is further reinforced by the arc of Salim’s life. After escaping from the clutches of Maman, both boys resort to crime (although not all of their activities are criminal in a libertarian sense) to support themselves. As they grow older, however, Jamal chooses legitimate employment like working at a call center while Salim delves deeper into India’s underworld. Of course, Salim’s choice ends up destroying him, while Jamal is rewarded for his efforts with both money and the girl. Another Oscar-winning ﬁlm that has a somewhat hidden libertarian message is “The Reader,” for which Kate Winslet won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The ﬁlm’s plot is more than a little convoluted, which is one of its major weaknesses (along with the unbelievable nature of its fundamental conceit), but the major point of interest for libertarians is the revelation that Winslet’s character—Hanna Schmitz—was an SS guard at Auschwitz. A large section of the movie focuses on her 1966 trial with several other female guards. Hanna confesses to helping choose which prisoners would die and which might have the small luck of making it to the next culling. When the judge asks Hanna if she realized she was sending these women to their deaths, she responds that “there were new arrivals. New women were arriving all the time, so the old ones had to make room for the new ones. .... We couldn’t keep everyone. There wasn’t room.” The statement is made as if she were tossing out old clothes or the week’s refuse, not ending human lives. But here’s the rub: Hanna is not an evil woman. Both earlier and later in the movie she is portrayed as emotional and caring, yet she carried out acts of tremendous evil. Thus the ﬁlm raises again Hannah Arendt’s (one cannot help but wonder if the character’s name is homage to Arendt) point about the banality of evil: most great acts of evil are not carried out by sociopaths or fanatics ﬁlled with malice but by ordinary people who simply accept the jobs they have been given. It is a sobering reminder that it is not so much individual wickedness that leads to great evil but overpowering institutions, like the state, and the strong tendency of people to trust that their own societies are morally right. Finally, it would be impossible to write about libertarian themes in the past year’s Oscar-contenders without discussing Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” which although nominated for three Academy Awards did not win any. It is entirely appropriate that Eastwood directed the year’s most libertarian ﬁlm considering that the actor-director is a self-described libertarian. According to the Advocates for Self-Government’s libertarian celebrity website, Eastwood told Parade magazine in 1997 that “[a]buse of power isn’t limited to bad guys in other nations. It happens in our own country if we’re not vigilant. Those in power get jaded, deluded,
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and seduced by power itself.” Though many of his ﬁlms have dealt with this issue, none has done more directly or forcefully than “Changeling.” The ﬁlm is based on the true story of the disappearance of Walter Collins. After Walter had been missing for several months, the police tell his mother Christine Collins—played by Aneglina Jolie—that he has been found alive in DeKalb, Illinois. When the police reunite Christine with her “son,” she recognizes that the boy is not Walter, but the police insist that he has changed in the intervening months and she should take him home anyway. She initially agrees but is quickly convinced that the boy cannot be Walter and returns to the police demanding they resume the search for her son. The police respond by trotting out a doctor to examine the boy given to Christine and to testify to the newspapers that the boy is indeed Walter and that Christine must just be reacting emotionally to his return. With the help of popular Presbyterian minister Gustav Briegleb—played expertly by John Malkovich— Christine decides to challenge the LAPD publicly with her own evidence. In order to avoid embarrassment, the police have Christine involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward unless she signs a document stating that the boy in her care is Walter. There are a couple of salient libertarian points to be ﬂeshed out here. The ﬁrst is that this is an effective demonstration of the ﬂaws in the very popular Progressive Era belief in the power of experts. There was a strong consensus among Progressive intel-
lectuals that almost all things—from the economy to schools to reproduction—should be handed over to boards of experts so that they could be “rationalized.” Naturally, it followed that there was no need to question these experts, and as this idea seeped into the populace at large, people would simply assume that a person (especially a woman) placed under the control of “experts” at a mental hospital by the police must be there for good reason. This leads directly into a point ﬁrst made by the great libertarian thinker Thomas Szasz: psychiatry, particularly involuntary commitment, can be used by the State as a weapon against those whose ideas could be dangerous, or, in this case, embarrassing. In the course of explaining how the LAPD had become a murderous instrument for a gang to wipe out its competition, Rev. Briegleb makes the most powerful libertarian statement in the movie: “Once you give people the freedom to do whatever they want—as the Lord found in the Garden of Eden—they will do exactly that.” Of course, on the face of it, that is a very anti-libertarian statement, but Briegleb is not talking about a freedom restrained by the rights of others. He is talking about the freedom to crush those who oppose you, about absolute power. Even in a year of many great libertarian ﬁlms, “Changeling” is the strongest indictment of that power. John Payne is a social studies teacher at East Carter County High School in Southeast Missouri. He blogs at RoughOlBoy.com.
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39 Young American Revolution
This much is true: You are being lied to
Don’t Weep for Me, America-How Democracy In American Became the Prince (While We Slept)
Abraham Lincoln’s Prediction-1864
“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country...corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” “THIS BOOK IS THE RED PILL” –Michael Wolsey The American public is, overall, completely ignorant of their true history. Practically everything they know about their country is a systematic, orchestrated falsehood. “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” –William Casey, former CIA Director, said in 1981 We are there. What makes this book different from other books out there is the weaving in and out throughout the story of the methods of deception used to fool the public and keep them under control, such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Plato’s Cave. The American founders knew our republic would not last. Machiavelli would have predicted as much. Tocqueville knew it. The reason why the American Republic didn’t last is given by Abraham Lincoln in 1864: Ultimately, “... all wealth is aggregated in a few hands”! Chillingly, in this provocative book, Machiavelli, Tocqueville, Orwell all come together to provide an accurate picture of America today! Written for the heart that yearns for freedom, This must-read book is essential reading and available from the publisher, Dorrance Publishing at: http://www.dorrancebookstore.com/doweformeamh.html or by calling 800-788-7654. Quantities are limited. ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!
40 June 2009
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