Category Archives: libertarianism

Ayn Rand: Atlas Shrugged

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Who is John Galt?

This is the mystery at the center of Ayn Rand’s 1957 brilliant, controversial but flawed magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged.  Since Rand and her work remain deeply polarizing, I hope those of you who have already made up your minds about Rand will persevere with this post and hear me out.  Especially those of you who haven’t read her work, but have formulated opinions based solely on the actions or words of individuals who champion her work or hit pieces from the progressive media.

Despite the seemingly ceaseless parade of straw men from the writers at Salon, AlterNet and every other cesspool of progressive dross who attempt to prove otherwise, Atlas Shrugged is prophetic and radical on every level. It is perhaps more radical and relevant now than it was in its day, but mostly, because she’s asking the reader to empathize with heroes who are generally regarded as objects of revulsion and contempt. Individuals who, according to broad swaths of the population, need to be regulated, taxed, supervised and preferably, jailed. Individuals who, according to prevailing modern progressive mindset, are despoiling the earth, exploiting the worker and hoarding the wealth of the world.  These heroes are, of course, industrial magnates.

Atlas Shrugged is set in post-WW2 America, but it’s an America that never existed. It’s a mythological, dieselpunk retro-futuristic dystopian America. In this respect, Atlas Shrugged is properly understood as a work of dystopian science fiction. It is essentially a story of two industry leaders who are driven by a deep sense of purpose, but are thwarted by political apparatchiks, bureaucrats and would-be do-gooders whose greed, envy and narcissism are wrapped in pretensions of altruism of every stripe. As they proceed, other producers are mysteriously dropping out of society, and our heroes set out to unravel the mystery while the slow stranglehold of bureaucracy chokes progress all around them. Needless to say, it’s also an extended philosophical treatise on Objectivism which spells out Rand’s views on morality, ethics, the role of the State, and the rights of the individual. Rand does not suffer a shortage of critics of her writing or her worldview, and to be honest, a few of these criticisms have merit, but none detract from the towering achievement of this novel.

Rand’s first radical choice was making the heroes of the story captains of heavy industry. Though there are doubtless examples of railway and metallurgical innovation to be found, viewing the steel manufacturing and railway industry as dynamic fields of innovation was itself a leap of imagination. As the novel begins, Rand sets up an industry not yet completely captured by labor and regulation. She tacitly asks you to dispel the idea of the cartelized half-public/half-private industry that presently exists in America. As Amtrak proves itself a compost heap of mediocrity and inertia in the real world, Rand asks the reader to imagine steel and railways through the eyes of an Elon Musk-type mindset and builds the drama around the slowly accumulating regulatory death spiral.

As the title suggests, she also made these heroes movers of the world; titans of business which undergird modern society, and without which modern society could not function. Since the very notion of “capitalism” is presently so deeply tied to banking, high finance or software development, Rand grounds the novel with characters who make physical objects and must themselves literally move the earth in order to realize their plans.

This is an Ayn Rand novel, so naturally, our heroes are beset by the forces of collectivism and state authority at every turn. Just as she did in The Fountainhead, Rand rolls out her cannons of contempt and fires volley after volley at the ramparts of academic royalism, media pusillanimity and government bureaucracy. The regulatory state, economic planning, academic postmodernism, and state sponsored science are among her many targets. She reserves much of her heavy artillery for the statist orthodoxy of scientism and its attendant effects on social activism in order to illustrate the pernicious influence it breeds in academics, labor unions, lobbyists and social justice warriors.

Atlas Shrugged is an epic novel with a host of characters and subplots, but the main storyline centers around two characters: railroad heiress Dagny Taggart and steel magnate Hank Rearden. The heroes are eventually united with the mysterious John Galt and all of the dissident producers who dropped out of society to join the productive utopia of Galt’s Gulch.

Hank Rearden is the steel industrialist and a classically Randian heroic archetype. When we are introduced to Rearden, he is portrayed as an elemental force; a portrait of grim stolidity whose iron will was forged in the same molten furnace that makes the steel beams he sells. In a subsequent scene, we’re introduced to his family and close associates. As each character is introduced, Rand is showing how each preys on Rearden’s spirit and goodwill in different ways and is laying out the themes and dramatic conflicts that will unfold throughout the remainder of the book.

I found Rand’s portrait of Rearden family life incisive and resonant. Rand shows how Hank feels like a stranger within his own family while exposing the how family members use guilt to extract obedience. Rearden’s mother criticizes him for being too consumed by his business and wishes he’d show more humility, but he’s annoyed that she seems unwilling to recognize how much he loves his work and the dedication he brings to it.  His wife wants a rich social life and wants him to be as interested as she is in the appearances of success. She affects a posture of progressive virtue and enlightened cosmopolitanism, but he simply can’t be bothered. His brother Philip is also a progressive and what would be referred to in today’s parlance as a social justice warrior. He’s annoying, predatory, miserable and ungrateful.  Even when Hank gives him exactly what he asks for and wishes him happiness, he remains an ungrateful cunt. All of the manipulations and machinations which surface in Hank’s family dynamic are a microcosm of the the phenomena each hero experiences as the novel progresses.

Though I understand why feminists in general are put off by Rand, I still can’t help but to find it deeply ironic. Dagny Taggart is the female badass that feminists seem to revere and she’s infinitely more believable than Katniss EverdeenImperator Furiosa or any of the many ass kicking would-be archetypes that are de rigueur nowadays. Rand made an extremely radical choice by making Dagny a railroad magnate. The feminist power fantasy heroine that’s commonplace nowadays emphasizes physical strength wildly disproportionate to body size, combat capabilities obtained without training, superhuman scientific expertise or all three (looking at you Rey). By contrast, Dagny Taggart has the courage of her convictions and willpower. She climbs through the ranks of Taggart Transcontinental on pure ambition, skill and work. She doesn’t rely on affirmative action, global feminist PR campaigns, sexual favors, nepotism or any other form of special pleading. Not only does Dagny face down the sexist attitudes that surround her with work and results, the attitudes Rand invokes feel appropriate for the time period and the industry. Unsurprisingly, contemporary feminists seem intent on promoting the idea that 50’s era attitudes are not only normal, but more widespread than ever. While this does seem to be the case for progressive politicians and celebrities, feminists continue to crusade against words and the slightest perceived transgression against womanhood. Rand gives us a heroine who seeks only to be judged by her skills and her achievement.  If only feminists would pay attention.

Through Dagny Taggart, Rand presents a refreshingly adult view of female sexuality and consent which stands in stark contrast to the neo-Victorian victimology of contemporary feminism. Rand knows that when a woman wants sex from a man, it’s not necessary for him to ask for consent at each juncture. An adult woman doesn’t demand that a man she truly wants comply with a set of consent rules imposed by government bureaucrats, feminist activists and academic elitists. Contrary to the contemporary feminists who shamelessly flog rape statistics as a psychological truncheon in order to extract compliance, shame and obedience from men, Rand emphasizes the pleasure Dagny gets from sex. Rand gives us an adult woman with full sexual agency uninhibited by religious or secular Puritanism. Feminists, on the other hand, seem intent on presenting themselves as hapless victims of a predatory patriarchy. It’s strange that feminists are the ones squashing the idea that women actively seek sexual congress and companionship while ignoring that women are always the gatekeepers of sex in a normal, healthy relationship.

Contemporary feminists also insist on rehashing the seemingly deathless talking point of an alleged stigma that’s applied towards women who have active sex lives. Rand gives us a character who simply has no fucks to give around what anyone has to say about her sex life.  On a related note, Rand is also remarkably dismissive of monogamy. She sees no moral transgression in the extramarital liaison between Dagny and Hank. It is an aspect of her worldview that sets her apart from traditional conservatives and on which the libertine wing of the Left has been strangely silent. There is more than a faint air of wish fulfillment to Dagny’s amorous associations throughout the book. Is Ayn Rand injecting her own fantasies into the novel by making Dagny the savior of civilization who gets to bang the three most powerful industrialists in the world? It’s not an unreasonable guess.

I suspect that there a couple things about Rand that really get feminist panties in a twist. First, is that she portrays feminine bliss and joy as full submission to a man. For all of Dagny’s strength and independence, Rand is pretty explicit about her willingness to submit completely to Rearden and Galt. Secondly, she’s unafraid to portray female predation, vindictiveness and pathology. Rand is unsparing in portraying Lillian Rearden as vampiric and toxic influence on Hank. That kind of emotional honesty certainly doesn’t square with a worldview which casts feminists as saints who are exempt from any kind of moral judgment.

Repeating a theme of The Fountainhead, but taking it to a whole new level, Rand sharpens her critique of academic postmodernism and the elitism and nihilism it breeds. Of the many themes in Atlas Shrugged which have only accumulated in strength and relevance, this one is certainly near the top. Behind the scenes of today’s social justice activism is a years long indoctrination campaign which prioritizes social pseudoscience, cultural Marxism, nihilism and self-negation over principles of individualism, productive work, and liberty. These forces conspire to derail the heroes and infect the thought of thought of everyone who surrounds them.

Upon completion of the John Galt Line, Jim Taggart is completely unable to take pride in the achievement. Wallowing in his pointless and narcissistic self-flagellation, he befriends a young cashier and future wife, Cherryl Brooks, for the exclusive purpose of flailing at the void and whinging over the great emptiness of it all. She indulges his pretentious blathering and condescending attitude with aplomb and grace, but it’s a foreshadowing of pitfalls to come. We discover later that Cherryl tries to remain self-possessed as Jim’s megalomania increases, but meets a tragic end.

Rand correctly attributes a religious proselytizing quality to postmodernism and hints at the spiritual role that has been assigned to it in the wake of America’s increased secularism. In his insufferable soliloquy to the infinite futility of life, Jim Taggart appeals to the “higher values” which are apparently inaccessible in the pursuit of economic gain, but can be understood by studying the solipsistic wanks of Dr. Pritchett’s hilariously and appropriately titled bit of pompous dreck, The Metaphysical Contradictions of the Universe. One needs only to spend a little time perusing the New Peer Review account on Twitter to find ample evidence that Rand’s aim was true with respect to the navel gazing pointlessness of the entire spectrum of postmodern academic studies.

It’s unlikely that any Left-leaning feminists or gender constructionists are even paying attention, but Rand even engages in some gender swapping that’s all the rage with the Tumblristas these days. The main difference is that Rand doesn’t deny biological sex differences nor does she wallow in pomo relativism. She merely acknowledges that there are general qualities found in men and women that are both biological and social norms. The fun is in observing how Rand inverts these expectations. When Jim Taggart finally marries Cherryl Brooks, she approaches Dagny and haughtily reminds her that she’s the “woman of the family now”. That’s okay, Dagny says. “I’m the man”. Boom! Suck on it, Judith Butler.

Rand made it very clear that her fiction was a vehicle for the philosophy of Objectivism. It can be seen as a distinct philosophical worldview with unique epistemological propositions. Specifically, it posits the idea that “existence exists” and all that exists is what can be perceived through sense data. Metaphysical contradictions do not nor cannot exist. There is no a prioristic knowledge about the world nor is there a spiritual reality. It is a secular, materialistic framework which is equally explicit about the objective existence of morality despite Rand’s openly atheistic convictions. What makes this especially interesting is that Rand still chose to frame morality using the language of theistic belief throughout the novel. Rand is unequivocal about the objective existence of the good and evil dichotomy. Dagny Taggart believed, for example, that “the greatest sin on earth” was to do things badly. The Objectivist conception of morality and ethics is somewhat clinical on paper, and it’s not clear how one would arrive at the exact same formulation of objective morality she specifies through a process of pure deductive reasoning. Rand never discusses the origins of morality in Atlas Shrugged nor does she sufficiently explain the existence of good and evil. Given that she is very explicit about where the moral fault lines lay throughout the novel, it seems like a foundational flaw in the overall epistemological framework. If morality itself is a metaphysical abstraction, how can one acquire certain knowledge of the objective existence of morality, let alone moral error, without appealing to some a priori external, metaphysical absolute? Even after listening to lectures from Atlas Society luminaries like David Kelley and Yaron Brook, Objectivist ethics and metaphysics strike me as questionable at best and somewhat daft at worst.

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In the Randian worldview, there are two very distinct and equally objective conceptions of moral truth. The bureaucrats, planners and looters hold just as steadfastly to their ideas that suffering is virtue just as the producers hold to their ideas of selfishness as virtue. These moral relativists are also claiming that their mandates and proclamations are objectively true. The only difference is that they require the power of the State (i.e. guns) in order to manufacture consensus. The best you can say about Randian morality is that she makes the distinction between the two worldviews very clear and asks you to make a choice. In the realms of ontology, moral psychology and ethical metaphysics, you can’t argue that there is objective error unless the behavior is being measured against some kind of metaphysical archetype or absolute. Nor am I convinced that morality is some emergent property of material reality or that the mere act of reasoning is inherently moral. Once you introduce these subjects, you have already departed from material reality. One wonders if perhaps the theists have a point when they say that atheists have generally failed to find a secular moral framework which doesn’t devolve into relativism, utilitarianism or cultish groupthink.

Yaron Brook in particular claims Ayn Rand’s ideas to be the apotheosis of enlightenment thought, but if anything, Rand is railing against a secular, enlightenment mindset run amok. The enlightenment consensus also proclaimed reason to be the ultimate engine of virtue and the French Revolution proved that disastrously false. It is the planners and bureaucrats who are able to usurp power by claiming that we live in an “enlightened age” where the altruistic values of being one’s “brother’s keeper” have prevailed. You can practically see the venomous sneer on her face as she as she heaps mounds of contempt on the idea that the mandate of a politician or a bureaucrat is equivalent to a law of nature. Objectivists undoubtedly view their creed as something beyond theistic morality, but it’s awfully difficult to see a dramatic difference between the Objectivist and the theist in the realm of moral truth.

Even more puzzling is that she speaks very openly about the existence of love, spirit and being. As the marriage between Jim Taggart and Cherryl Brooks unravels, Cherryl’s disillusionment comes from misplaced admiration while Jim’s desire for it was rooted in an overindulgence in feelings. Rand draws a clear distinction between Jim Taggart’s vision of feelings based love as an act of empty faith in contrast to Cherryl’s more noble desire for love as a true expression of affection earned through virtuous deeds. Both Cherryl and Rand consider Jim Taggart to be a parasite of the spirit and the produce of individual; someone who wants both unearned emotional and material reward. Rand is presumably making a sound point about the connection between mental health, emotional maturity and moral values, but once again, it’s not at all clear how one can distinguish these ideas as objective truths which emerge from material reality.

Adding to the credibility hurdles in Objectivism is her apparent belief in blank slate construction of selfhood which she shared with her postmodernist, neo-Marxist opponents. Rand seems to hold that people can just detach themselves from the a priori conglomeration of genetic memories, parental imprinting, emotional traumas, psychological conditions, cognitive biases, unconscious being and learned prejudices and view the world through a lens of cold reason and logic. And that’s saying nothing about IQ disparities found throughout the population. It may sound appealing, but it steps over some significant realities of the entire apparatus of the human mind. Developing the mental discipline necessary to think logically about deep philosophical questions requires not only a certain level of scholarly dedication but some willingness to wrestle with one’s own tangle of emotional proclivities and ideological biases. I suspect this may be one of many reasons people have a difficult time buying into Randian heroes. People could buy into Mr. Spock because he was a Vulcan. Accepting human characters with similar attributes may be a bridge too far.

Rand’s opponents have frequently derided Objectivism on the grounds that it is too self-centered and lacks compassion. Atlas Shrugged certainly lends credence to these charges since Objectivism seems to take a dim view of charity. The third act of the novel deals with Dagny’s arrival in Galt’s Gulch, and when Dagny suggests that Midas Mulligan give his automobile to Galt for a short usage, Galt quietly reminds Dagny that “giving” is verboten in this would-be paradise. In Galt’s Gulch, everything is earned. Rand clearly wants to draw a bright moral line around productive labor, but even the most virtuous people need assistance, care for the indigent is a genuine concern, and charity is a virtue that’s both necessary and actively cultivated. Rand is certainly correct in denigrating politicians and apparatchiks who exploit the language of altruism in order to advance political agendas, but her apparent disdain for even voluntary acts of charity seems misplaced.

This stinginess of spirit also extends into other realms of being. When Hank Rearden’s ex-wife, mother, and brother attempt to appeal to his sense of generosity and compassion as his steel mill’s economic pulse begins to seize up, none is forthcoming. They keep hoping that their emotional entreaties will get through to him, but he remains resolute in his refusal to offer even the slightest glimmer of mercy. This is entirely consistent with both Hank’s disposition and the overall framework of thought Rand has laid out, but it is also a deeply constrained and niggardly conception of humanity. Though she borders on making her heroes monochromatic in their Objectivist stoicism, Rearden refuses his family and ex-wife because of their betrayals and parasitism. The impression with which you’re left is that their posture of penitence was disingenuous and manipulative thereby justifying Hank’s cold blooded indifference. Fair enough. But Rand seems hostile to even the possibility of either genuine repentance or forgiveness. Hank is only willing to forgive if his mother encouraged him to quit and disappear. It also beggars belief that Hank didn’t harbor tons of pent up resentment and didn’t want to just vent a little. I could buy into Roark’s spartan emotional life in The Fountainhead, but giving these heroes the exact same attributes smacks of repetition and lacks basic dramatic credibility. This seems to be yet another unnecessarily impoverished Randian archetypal ideal. Even if we take the case that his family were just as duplicitous and spiritually bankrupt as Rand portrays them, sometimes people do genuinely seek absolution from those they’ve wronged. Conversely, granting forgiveness can offer just as much redemption for the person bestowing it as the person who seeks it. And sometimes, you may have to forgive the wrongs others have perpetrated if purely to achieve peace of mind because contrition is certainly not guaranteed. Not only does Objectivism seemingly disallow these possibilities, there is nothing within the framework of logical deduction that would lead anyone to seek or bestow forgiveness. Both require a certain measure of humility, and a purely rational analysis of material sense data is an insufficient epistemological model with which to develop a robust toolkit of human relations.

Objectivism has been described by some of its detractors as an atheist religion. I contend that there is validity to this charge. Objectivism’s big calling card is its claim on secular ethics. Anyone who devotes herself to the development of a set of philosophical principles which are intended to supplant the role that religion has traditionally played will undoubtedly attract a following who treat these ideas with the type of reverence normally reserved for actual religious faith. Rand denigrates and derides religious faith as a superstition which paves the way for the kind of slavish obedience to “higher authority” on which the villains preyed, but simultaneously venerates her heroes’ adherence to a higher metaphysical truth from which they drew their strength and independence. Replacing one set of theistic metaphysics with another set of allegedly secular and materialist metaphysics still constitutes an act of faith. Even as Galt’s life hangs in the balance in the novel’s climax, Wesley Mouch desperately wants him “to believe” in their cause. Like Thomas Paine and Bertrand Russell, she perpetuates a false dichotomy between faith and reason by asserting that the exercise of one faculty necessarily precludes the other. Or that the process of reasoning is somehow divorced from any embedded prerational biases. The human ability to conceptualize and concretize abstract archetypes and metaphysical ideals through language is the very essence of faith. The looters of Atlas Shrugged want to dispel the idea that the individual possesses a sovereign consciousness and that the “enlightened” citizen will abdicate logic and cede the act of thinking to the experts. Rand is essentially asking you to make a leap of faith wrapped in a tautology that’s scarcely different from that of theists. Human consciousness, free will and morality exist because existence exists.

At its core, Objectivism seems an elaborate hymn to the Logos stripped of any references to the divine. I can appreciate that she set out to create a secular philosophical framework which was intended to maximize virtue, but it seems lacking. Objectivism starts from the proposition that reason alone is the engine of virtue, reality is limited to that which can be perceived by the senses, and an objective world exists independent of our perception. Rand was deeply opposed to Immanuel Kant’s contention that both morality and human cognition were filtered through an a priori structure, but on this point, she was wrong and Kant was right. Rand rejects all prerational and a prioristic knowledge, but leans on prerational and a prioristic concepts like Good and Evil. Good and Evil all by themselves are transcendent concepts which exist outside the domain of reason. By disallowing traditional, prerational and hereditary knowledge from the Objectivist framework, the Kantian criticism of pure reason stands. A collection of independent minds processing sense data divorced from any a priori, cultural, or hereditary knowledge will necessarily arrive at different conclusions.

Rand is frequently lumped in with the conservative tradition, but Objectivism all by itself sets her solidly within the tradition of post-Enlightenment rationalism, and by extension, classical liberalism. Rand’s philosophy could be viewed as a distinct branch of thought that descends from the classical liberal tradition set forth by Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Ironically, her rigid insistence on the primacy of a posteriori empirical data as the only valid source of knowledge also puts her thought in close proximity to the quasi-socialist thought of Auguste Comte. Rand’s unalloyed contempt for the intellectual class and intellectual gnosticism in general is the one, and perhaps only, strand of her worldview which aligns her with the Burkean tradition. Though it doesn’t negate the existence of objective reality, one wonders whether the revelations of quantum mechanics would have prompted doubts in Rand’s mind over the viability of pure materialism.

Rand was militant in her political neutrality and vilified conservatives and libertarians alike. Though she derided them as “hippies of the right”, Rand and Objectivism are currently and rightly identified with the more secular, minarchist wing of the libertarian movement. Despite her vehement condemnation of anarcho-capitalism, Galt’s climactic speech does, in fact, spell out Non-Aggression Principle in very explicit terms. I believe this aligns her thought at least superficially with modern libertarianism.

Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that no man man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate – do you hear me? No man may start – the use of physical force against others. 

Despite the flaws in its foundational propositions, it can’t be denied that Rand reaches some sound conclusions about both the productive class and the collective “unpersoning” to which they are frequently subject. Specifically, that there is a relatively small fraction of society that does a majority of the productive labor while simultaneously being demonized as either puppet masters or vampires. As Jordan Peterson has argued, the Pareto principle applies to the distribution of workers at the top that do most of the heavy lifting. It’s the kind of thing that sends progressives into conniptions, but Galt’s speech does correctly identify the fact that progressives use the rhetoric of “equality” to pit the will of the majority against this minority. The so called 1% are convenient villains. While many are quite eager to make common cause with progressives and affect the posture of virtue that Rand righteously derides, her overall criticism of the perverse and inverted morality of progressives is dead on.

‘The public,’ to you, is whoever has failed to achieve any virtue or value, whoever achieves it, whoever provides the goods you require for your survival, ceases to be regarded as part of the public or as part of the human race. 

The cult-like environment Rand built up around herself in her later years is well documented. The reputation of modern Objectivists appears to have done little to alter this perception. Rand didn’t come across like the most jovial or happy person to be around despite her open affirmation of the pursuit of happiness as the highest human aspiration. A keen intellect for sure, but not exactly a barrel of laughs.

The knee-jerk hatred of Rand from progressives is puzzling because, at a bare minimum, one would expect that they would be sympathetic to several components of her thought. Her militant individualism, her zealous insistence on the application of the scientific method as the ultimate epistemological framework for determining reality, her materialist worldview and libertine approach towards sex set her far from anything in the conservative tradition of thought. Aside from her views on the free market and the role of the State, I see little daylight between her and the likes of Russell, Harris and Dawkins. If anything, the hatred she gets from progressives serves as confirmation that Objectivism is an untenable proposition as a complete philosophy of the world. People filter the world through a set of biases, and if anything, the very materialistic worldview she espoused has bred a fealty to political power as the font of virtue. Aside from the relentless demonization she gets in the media, the mental dissonance the mere perception of her message creates in the progressive mind likely creates too much of a barrier to warrant engagement. Because after all, how many Rand haters can actually say they’ve read her work?

The fact that Ayn Rand’s work has become a both a progressive dog whistle and lightning rod that is meant to signify the thought of all conservatives or libertarians says quite a bit about the effectiveness of leftist propaganda and the power of her work. Like Adam Smith, it’s assumed that if you’re conservative or libertarian, you automatically subscribe to everything she had to say and that your beliefs mirror hers exactly.

Above all else, Atlas Shrugged is an extended diatribe and warning against the slow encroachment of socialism in a free society. Contrary to the idiotic screeching about the alleged advent of fascism that emanates from the MSM echo chamber 24/7, totalitarianism doesn’t just spring forth from a single politician. It’s the slow accumulation of a consensus built slowly and carefully by bureaucrats and intellectuals. This book’s greatest strength is its sustained attack on the influence of the intellectual class in building a consensus for socialism. People have criticized Rand for the voluminous length of the novel as well as the lengthy philosophical expositions contained in the monologues of various characters, but there is a painstaking deliberateness in every word of this novel. Rand wants you to see and understand collectivism in every manifestation. She wants to show how each character is ultimately corrupted by it until it spreads through society like a virus and brings the gears of progress to a grinding halt.

Rand saves her heaviest artillery for the economic central planners. Upon Dagny’s return to the rapidly collapsing world after her convalescence in Galt’s Gulch, she returns to a Taggart Transcontinental laboring under the weight of the bureaucratic mandates of Directive 10-289. The regulations had throttled the normal functions of the line and plunged the operation into a spiral of unused resources, service shortages and diminishing short-term profit chasing. Dagny pried her hapless brother for any sign that he was thinking in the long-term for the company. Rand loads the cannon, and fires an ordnance directly at the legacy of John Maynard Keynes by putting his words in the mouth of hilariously named Railroad Unification bureaucrat, Cuffy Meigs. “In the long run, we’ll be dead”, he snorts. Indeed, Mr. Keynes. It’s too bad you were so dismissive of the price in human liberty your demand management models would extract for a little short term boost in GDP.

Rand clearly wants to venerate and celebrate the heroism she sees in the producer. The producers in Galt’s Gulch do not recoil or retreat from hard physical labor even if they were failed intellectuals in the world of the looters. They revel in the pride of having the opportunity to put their minds and bodies to their highest use. Work is always a virtue. Success that is honestly earned is never a vice. It’s also worth emphasizing that the crony capitalists who make common cause with the bureaucrats and planners are the ones that Rand considers villains.The caricature of Rand that’s widely circulated is that she blindly worshipped corporations and businesses while keeping her scorn limited to moochers and bureaucrats. Not so. The archetypal Randian hero stands alone and seeks only to be judged by the quality of his work.

The popular conception of Rand’s work is that she championed the pursuit of profit to the exclusion of all other considerations. Anyone who actually reads Atlas Shrugged (or any of her other works for that matter) will recognize that this is a complete misrepresentation of her position. One of the key events which spurs the heroes to uncover the mystery of the disappearance of the leaders of industry is their visit to an abandoned car manufacturing plant. After making their way through the squalor of the dying town which remained after the factory shuttered its operations, Hank and Dagny stumble upon the plans for a car powered by renewable energy. That’s right. Ayn Rand, the living epitome of capitalist rapacity and insensitivity, imagined a non-carbon based, renewable energy source in her book. I wonder why this little detail is overlooked in the Rand hate mill. Through this storyline, Rand simultaneously rebukes historical materialism and gives an elegant lesson on the virtues of free market innovation. When new technology is developed, it displaces old methods, increases efficiency, and frees up every individual. It is the absence of capitalism which leads to degradation, exploitation and servitude. The only thing Rand got wrong was that she didn’t anticipate that the planners would lure the masses into submission with lofty promises of an environmentally friendly techno-utopia.

It’s a theme that doesn’t figure as prominently in Atlas Shrugged as it does in The Fountainhead, but when she swings the wrecking ball at media mendacity, it’s well deserved demolition. As society grinds to a halt in the novel’s final chapters, the media remains focused on narrative while ignoring the chaos and violence happening throughout society. 

Atlas Shrugged is filled with big ideas, but there are plenty of small details that suggest that Ayn Rand’s foresight wasn’t limited to macro phenomena. As the bureaucratic bigwig Mr. Thompson tries to forestall societal collapse by attempting to negotiate with Galt, violence and civil unrest breaks out in California. Rand describes a band of communist militants led by Ma Chalmers and her “soybean cult of Orient admirers”. Ma Chalmers became a soybean mogul by securing government subsidies. If you simply swapped in “Yvette Felarca and the Antifa Soy Boys“, it would sound like a headline ripped from today’s alternative media.

Another central theme in the book that’s accumulated relevance is the corrupting influence of the State on science and the attendant appeal to scientism in political discourse. In the novel, Rearden and Taggart each have to contend with would-be scientists who spend their time idling in the government insulated confines of the National Institute of Science drawing up industry mandates wrapped in a veneer of “public good”. The bureaucrats at the National Institute of Science end up creating a deadly sonic weapon which is greeted by a great rhetorical fanfare of Unity, but for which no one will take ultimate responsibility.

Rand righteously skewers the false antagonism between commerce and science.  In Dagny’s quest to discover the inventor of the mysterious atmosphere powered motor, she seeks assistance from Institute of Science charlatan, Dr. Stadler. Stadler expresses his smug, entitled incredulity at the idea that such a brilliant mind would squander his discovery in the realm of commerce, and Dagny shoots back with a barbed retort about how he probably enjoyed living in this world. 

Near the novel’s conclusion, Stadler makes a final appeal to Galt in which he attempts to justify his alliance with the State. He pleads ineptitude at persuasion while denigrating the masses of unthinking plebs as his justification for resorting to force in order to pursue the life of scientific progress he envisioned. This monologue is simultaneously one of the most powerful critiques of modernity in Atlas Shrugged and one of its biggest contradictions. Progressives have supplanted a spiritual worldview with a purely scientific one. Rand scores another ideological point by devoting so much of the novel to this line of critique, but the very materialistic rationality she espouses is the framework that allowed the mentality of the likes of Stadler to flourish. 

She extends the critique of State influence on science into the mentality of the artist. Richard Halley is Dagny’s favorite composer, and she delights in having the opportunity to meet him in Galt’s Gulch. Once again, Rand lays waste to the belief that art and commerce are mutually exclusive.

For if there is more tragic a fool than the businessman who doesn’t know that he’s an exponent of man’s highest creative spirit – it’s the artist who thinks that the businessman is his enemy. 

Hating on Ayn Rand is a subgenre of the political Left that’s well established at this point. I have yet to read a single anti-Rand diatribe which doesn’t straw man her position or blatantly distort her message in some way. It’s also quite fashionable to be penitent about your former fascination with Rand and proclaim that you’ve “grown up and opened your eyes.” All of these mendacious, spineless, virtue signaling twats can suck on it. Rand was a serious thinker and her ideas warrant serious engagement. It seems churlish and uncharitable to focus on what she got wrong rather than the really important stuff she got completely right.

Heaping smug disdain on Rand is an easy way to score points with leftists. While I’m sure there are leftists who actually attempt to engage honestly with what she’s written and that there are surely legitimate critiques to be found, everything I’ve read is throwaway snark, a pathetic straw man or knee-jerk disdain. You don’t have to look very far to find people who bash Rand, and to be fair, there are definitely shortcomings to her writing and her philosophy.

Some criticize her prose as leaden and hamfisted and I think there’s some merit to this charge. In her defense, I propose that the world has become so accustomed to obfuscation and postmodern obscurantism, her writing seems artless by comparison. The straitjacket of Objectivism also partially accounts for this phenomenon. She has no difficulty portraying corruption and evil, but when she wants to convey transcendent acts of heroism or romantic ecstasy, it feels wooden because she has confined all of these phenomena to the realm of reason. It fails more often than not.

There is also something emotionally arid to the various philosophical monologues. The content is great, but no one I know talks like that. Maybe hardcore Objectivists do, but most people don’t. The only way the dialogues make sense is to view them as mythological Randian archetypes. Even if you set aside the leaden tone of the content, she’s also recycling the basic dramatic template she used in The Fountainhead. The forces of collectivism conspire towards one dramatic event with high stakes which sets the table for the hero to lay down a heavy philosophical lesson on morality and virtue.

The sex scene between Dagny Taggart and John Galt is a bit of a groaner, too. Rand is trying to render the heat of erotic passion using the language of Objectivist rationalism and it comes off as clunky as it sounds. It’s clear that she’s saying that sexual fulfillment emerges from mutual respect and shared values, but like everything else in the Objectivist framework, this seems too narrow a view of humanity. To suggest that pure physical attraction doesn’t play some role in sexual arousal seems daft. Besides some level of pure animal magnetism, long-term relationships which prioritize communication and intimacy also play just as big a part in sexual fulfillment as mutual respect and values parity. Rand apparently sees it through this clinical and antiseptic lens which steps over some rather significant aspects of human psychology, physiology and pair bonding.

Despite all of their flaws, Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged both deserve respect. Rand was trying to provide an all encompassing philosophy for life which addressed the question of how to formulate a system secular morality. There’s a reason that religion and a religious worldview animated the great achievements of Western civilization. Mankind flourishes when he upholds ideals larger than himself. The pre-Enlightenment worldview stood atop the premise that man was striving for divinity and that the works of civilization must reflect this pursuit. Strip away that foundational view, and you’ve got a very large void in the human consciousness to fill. Unless you can fill it with a higher metaphysical ideal, the vampires of the State are going to fill it for you. I believe Ayn Rand knew this as well as anyone in history you can name whose highest aspiration was the emancipation of the individual. The fact that she fell short of meeting the challenge shouldn’t preclude an earnest engagement with the ideas she laid down in Atlas Shrugged

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Whither Libertarianism? Reflections on the Revolution Within

I empathize with those who find ideological categories and labels confining and reductive. Many people hold a wide variety of positions which defy one easy overarching classification while others claim Radical Centrism® either out of extreme cognitive bias, intellectual laziness, logical incoherence or moral cowardice. Still others claim one set of principles in the marketplace of ideas, but subordinate them to one of the dominant political parties out of a sense of pragmatism. The political process certainly doesn’t help matters by herding people into the rigid confines of partisan bickering. The flattening of political thought is only exacerbated by the outrage du jour that is now a staple of our 24/7 social media enabled news cycle. As problematic as labels may be, they serve a purpose of distinguishing broad principles and ideas around which people organize. Words have meaning, and when it comes to political philosophy, it’s especially important to be able to clearly specify principles and objectives. If there’s one political philosophy which distinguishes itself on adherence to principles above all else, it’s libertarianism. Or at least that’s what I thought.

For those who aren’t in the liberty movement, libertarianism is undergoing a bit of identity crisis. This is nothing new. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. Scorned and ridiculed by conservatives and progressives alike, libertarians have always had a reputation for being the gadflies of politics. If you thought the 2016 election cycle was fractious for conventional partisans, it was even more divisive for libertarians. Libertarians are already divided over numerous issues, and if anything, infighting and disagreement are features of being in the liberty movement. The aftermath of the 2016 election only seems to have amplified these divisions. In the run-up to the 2016 election, you had self-described libertarians for Donald Trump, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and most inexplicably, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And that doesn’t even include the anarchists who didn’t vote. If that doesn’t leave you a little confused over what libertarianism means, you’re certainly not alone.

On the one hand, it’s great that there is such a diversity of thought and a robust culture of debate within the liberty movement. On the other, having such disparities in political activism dilutes what is a fairly well established body of thought. Such diversity may not lend itself towards building a future for a movement that is already vilified as a collection of nerds who are more invested in being militant iconoclasts than in achieving tangible political goals.

Is it important for libertarians to have a uniform ideology? Will having clearly defined principles result in purity tests and purges? Can an ideology that’s so resolutely individualistic and anti-state build a meaningful coalition? Is deference to state authority too deeply imprinted into the human psyche after thousands of years of psychological evolution? As the ultimate hierarchical organization, does state authority provide a salutary psychological benefit that libertarianism takes for granted? Are historical examples of anarchist societies evidence that anarchy can work or are they proof of their anomalous and unstable nature? Is state power an inherently corrupting influence on those who wield it or is the corruption merely a reflection of the absence of morality within the culture over which it presides? Moreover, is it realistic to advocate for a stateless society given that libertarianism is already a marginal philosophy within the context of what was arguably the most overtly libertarian attempt at a limited state: the United States of America? If true libertarianism is strictly defined as advocacy for the abolition of the state, are the ideas strong enough to sustain a lasting social order? Specifically, is the Non-Aggression Principle sufficient to sustain a stable and cohesive society? Or would it require strong familial, cultural, and religious communities? Do libertarians ultimately have to accept that large swaths of human civilization will simply not voluntarily buy into the idea of a stateless society? Is standing up for pure libertarian principles a brave position or is it little more than the libertarian version of virtue signaling?

While I don’t have definitive answers to these questions, I still regard libertarianism as a beautiful and edifying vision. I also believe that the most trenchant critiques of state power are found within the liberty movement. In light of the schisms that have emerged, I think it’s useful to take a look at the various libertarian factions and evaluate their respective merits.

LP/Cato Libertarians

Roughly comprised of beltway think tanks, tenured academics, LP aspirants, Reason readers and Radical Centrists® disenfranchised from the two party duopoly, this group of libertarians seeks to cast the widest net for the liberty philosophy. This crowd also seems most eager to lay claim to the legacy of classical liberalism by building a largely secular libertarianism from the likes of Hayek, Friedman, Nozick, Rand and Mill. What they lack in criticisms of central banking and the warfare state, they make up for in advocacy for legal weed and prostitution. Though there is a wealth of good journalism, research, and libertarian theory emanating from this corner, there are also some troubling sops to social justice activists, Islam apologists, open borders crusaders, and “post-scarcity” futurists cheerleading for universal basic income. This also happens to be the home of the “libertarians” for Hillary. That should have been an oxymoron, but for some reason, it was a thing.


What is to be made of the LP and Gary Johnson contingent? Johnson ran for president on the LP ticket in 2012 and 2016, and let’s just say his candidacy left most libertarians uninspired to say the very least. Most people saw Johnson’s credibility go up in flames over the infamous Aleppo gaffe, but the sad truth is that his debate and town hall performances did the job for him. While most libertarians were craving a principled candidate willing to articulate the liberty philosophy with clarity and conviction, what they got instead was a bumbling figurehead who seemed caught flat footed with every question. His mealy mouthed platitudes about being “socially liberal and fiscally conservative” just made him sound like Republican Lite. Since most libertarians spend a good chunk of their time and energy honing their arguments for liberty, Johnson’s intellectual lethargy was especially galling. He often seemed like he just wanted to be a more respectable “libertarian” version of Jeff Spicoli. Among many other dubious statements, Bill Weld’s rather open embrace of Hillary Clinton didn’t exactly endear him to movement libertarians either.
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Despite fielding candidates like Ron Paul and Harry Browne in past elections, the LP has beclowned itself in several ways recently, too. If the striptease at the LP convention didn’t leave you bewildered, might I recommend a look at their Twitter account. Some of their recent flacking for North Korea has prompted both ridicule and revulsion. Judd Weiss’ sobering expose of the behind-the-scenes cannibalism and backstabbing of the 2016 election dispelled all notions that the LP were somehow above the bloodsport of major party politics. And that’s saying nothing of Nicholas Sarwark’s strange, unprovoked attack on Tom Woods. Though the LP has a radical caucus, it’s future prospects are murky at best.

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Seriously, LP?

Left Libertarians

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It’s like dialectical materialism, but way more #WOKE, dude.

Basically, these are the SJWs of the liberty movement. They seem almost wholly consumed by cultural progressivism and railing against entire spectrum of -isms that most have come to associate with the term “social justice warrior”. Best exemplified by the Center For Stateless Society and Bleeding Heart Libertarians, these so-called libertarians are putting a market mutualist spin on the entire progressive agenda from universal basic income to healthcare. There is surely some overlap with the Cato Libertarians, but for my money, there’s little daylight between this crowd and your garden variety gender studies freshman. For a group of people who claim to be promoting heterodox thought, it sure sounds a lot like the establishment.

Rothbardians/Austro-libertarians

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The real schism in libertarianism seems to reveal itself when it comes to where you stand on the work of the Mises Institute, Murray Rothbard or Hans Hermann Hoppe. Given the fact that Murray Rothbard himself was excommunicated from Cato and split from the LP, it should come as little surprise that the Mises institute and everyone in their orbit seem to attract the most controversy. Unsurprisingly, this is also where you’ll find the most robust vision of libertarianism.

The two recent speeches given by Jeff Deist and Hans Hoppe demarcate the divide between the punters and the warriors for liberty. Both speeches laid out a practical way forward for the liberty movement while avoiding the temptation to impose abstract ideals of libertarian universalism. Deist laid out a strategy for radical decentralization from the grip of an overextended federal state and the tentacles of globalism coupled with a return to localized cultural and familial bonds. Hoppe echoed Rothbard’s call for libertarian populism by laying out a very specific set of actions where libertarians could make common cause with the broader conservative movement in order to make greater advances towards a libertarian social order. Besides his very explicit contention that libertarianism is strictly the advocacy for a stateless society, Hoppe’s speech was also a stinging rebuke to Libertarianism Lite as well as the Alt Right.

Naturally, both speeches drew a chorus of autistic screeching from every ideological corner. Deist’s speech was reviled as a crypto-fascist “blood and soil” screed while Hoppe’s speech was similarly attacked as a white supremacist dog whistle. The Rothbardian tradition has synthesized Lockean natural rights with a radical theory of laissez faire free markets and Burkean traditionalism. It’s an elegant and logically consistent ideology while taking into account human nature, history and tradition.

But libertarianism is staring down the corridor of history filled with centuries of monarchies, city states and nation states. Human psychology has evolved to submit to some kind of sovereign governing body. Even if some small scale version of Ancapistan is created, it will be forced to coexist alongside actual formal nation states. Its members will have to perform a private equivalent of every function currently performed by actual nation states. Including and especially border control and collective defense. And if necessary, physical removal.

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Can libertarianism win and secure its victory for posterity? Can libertarianism win exclusively through persuasion in the marketplace of ideas? Can a meaningful coalition be built by completely eschewing the acquisition of state power? Would a polycentric society lend itself towards the kind of stability of tradition which Burke and other classical conservatives envisioned? I don’t know for sure, but I know it’s going to remain a hard sell. It’s perhaps the toughest pathway by which to build a consensus, but perhaps the one which presumably will grow the deepest roots amongst its adherents.

Commies vs. AnCaps: Welcome to the Rap Metal Terrordome

Throughout America and the West, the political Left have overwhelmingly dominated the culture through the arts. This dominion extends across the entire sphere of pop and rock music. With the possible exception of country, the political opinions in the pop and rock world tend to run the gamut between progressive and communist. While most generally save their grandstanding for DNC appearances, award ceremonies and social media, there is a notable handful of artists who put radical leftist politics front and center. Rage Against the Machine made Marxist angst a mass market success, so it should come as little surprise that the supergroup followup, Prophets of Rage, cashes in on the same sensibilities. Comprised of the rhythm section reactor that powered RATM and augmented by members of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, Prophets of Rage want to make America rage again by synthesizing the combined legacies of its members.

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While propping up establishment politics under the veneer of radicalism passes for “rebellion” on the Left, you’d think that liberty would resonate as a theme in a genre that prides itself on being the Voice of the Disaffected™. For whatever reason, very little liberty oriented subject matter has translated into mass success beyond the odd Rush or Megadeth record. Libertarians are starting to recognize that culture is upstream from politics and are now making inroads into the pop culture realm. One of the unexpected success stories has been the emergence of rap-metal Rothbardians, Backwordz. Fronted by Eric July, a man who is already recognized as a rising star in the liberty movement, Backwordz is plying their own brand of rap-metal but with a message that stands in polar opposition to the leftist grunting of the Prophets. Drawing almost exclusively from the more recent history of rap-rock hybrids, Backwordz sound invokes comparisons to Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Static-X and Body Count. If you had told me even a year ago that the nexus of politically fueled music converges at the intersection of hip-hop and hard rock, I’d have looked at you sideways. Yet here we are. So let’s jump into the rap-metal terrordome and see how they stack up.

Prophets of Rage vs. Backwordz

In many ways, Prophets of Rage is one of the most successful rap-rock hybrids I’ve heard. It pains me to say it because the politics of the album alternate between idiotic sloganeering, boring clichés and braindead incoherence. Prophets of Rage seem tailor made for the Age of #SocialJustice, and they’re cashing in on it by openly advertising themselves as the soundtrack to the #RESISTANCE. If you simply gathered up the highest trending hashtags from #WOKE Twitter from the past couple years (#Blacklivesmatter, #RESIST, #DumpTrump, #TakeAKnee, #HandsUpDontShoot, etc), that pretty much sums up what they have to say as a band. Add in some communist iconography, weed references and Antifa-inspired branded merchandise, and the package is complete. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some group of campus SJWs chanting the chorus to “Unfuck the World” at any given protest.

No Hatred
Fuck Racists
Blank Faces
Time’s Changin’
One Nation
Unification The Vibration
Unfuck the World!

 

Wow. That’s deep, bro. Pass the bong.

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Conversely, Backwordz have a lot of interesting things to say on their debut release, “Veracity”, but it is simply less enjoyable as a musical experience. And by interesting, I mean songs that represent the perspective of a full throated Rothbard style anarcho-capitalist. That’s not to say that they are less accomplished musicians or that their vision is any less cohesive. It’s just that I found myself wanting to sing along with Prophets, but didn’t have the same experience with Backwordz. If nothing else, the fact that Backwordz have written an anti-Keynesian rap-metal anthem which name checks Ludwig von Mises and The Road to Serfdom makes them deserving of respect. “Praxeology” is not necessarily a song I want to put on repeat, but I think it’s commendable that they wrote it in the first place. There’s probably more than a few people out there who scooped up copies of Anthem and The Fountainhead after rocking out to 2112, so I suspect it won’t be long before we begin to hear testimonials of kids who picked up Human Action after jamming Backwordz.

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Backwordz songs follow a general formula. Eric July spits out a manic flow over some chunky syncopated riffage which is followed by a melodic emo chorus sung by Alex James. What the riffs lack in memorability, they make up for in rhythmic interest and mechanical precision. At their best, Backwordz’ riffage falls somewhere in between the jagged chugging of Meshuggah and the militant ratatat of Disturbed. July alternates between a smooth, rhythmically energetic flow and a full on aggro scream. There is the occasional chill electro beat section, too.

Backwordz cover a lot of ground in one record. A tour through the song titles and lyrics reveal a pretty broad spectrum of liberty oriented themes. Unfortunately, the songs are a little like monologues from Randian heroes. The content is great, but there’s something wooden and slightly cringe inducing about it. July is hitting excellent subjects, but he’s just not the greatest wordsmith. However, the one song that’s both lyrically and thematically devastating is “Statheist”. If there’s one thing that progressives don’t like to hear, it’s having their own religious faith called out.

Say it, we know the truth
Saying Hail Mary’s at the voter booth
You are a fraud
Stop acting like you don’t believe in god
Acting like they made us
Politicians are your saviors
You are a fraud
Stop acting like you don’t believe in god

 

To my ears, the Prophets’ overall sound has more breath and a deeper reach back into rock history. The Prophets successfully negotiate a rhythmic pocket that reconciles Led Zeppelin, P-Funk, MC5 and The Stooges. Tom Morello’s politics are vile and stupid but the man is quite simply one of the most innovative guitarists in rock working today. I defy any rock lover to say that the chorus to “Hail to the Chief” isn’t the very epitome of The Riff. The Prophets’ superior conception of groove also ties into their superiority in songcraft. I can’t remember a single hook from the Backwordz record, but I can remember practically every single one from the Prophets of Rage. Having the Morgan Freeman of hip-hop doesn’t hurt, either. Chuck D’s gruff, leathery bass and relaxed flow is just more appealing to listen to than July’s rapid fire rhymes. If there was only one message that I hope to convey to the members of Backwordz, I would encourage them to learn from the Prophets’ songwriting example.

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What pisses me off the most about the Prophets of Rage is that, in contrast to their ideological brethren GY!BE, they’re cashing in on leftist anger without being explicit about that for which they stand. Admittedly, it’s not that hard to discern their intentions, but it’s masked amidst the fist pumping sloganeering. They want you to “know your rights”, but exhort you to “burn that goddamn flag”. They lament that you “pretend there’s democracy” in one song, but insist that you should “legalize me” in another. Morello himself has been pretty explicit about his communist convictions throughout his career, and Prophets of Rage is just the latest update to the packaging. Their anti-authoritarian posture masks their authoritarian designs. It’s not that just that they want to “Smashit”; they want to “go Molotov” and “become the gun”. They insist that you know “who owns who”, but want you to ignore the question of who owns them. I contend that the following photo from their Twitter account summarizes their true intentions. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the one political ideal that America sought to institutionalize: liberty. Though the #TakeAKnee campaign was supposedly meant to symbolize a protest against police brutality and racial injustice, the act of kneeling is actually an act of submission. Not defiance. The fact that the Prophets of Rage would promote an image of Lady Liberty kneeling in submission is exactly what I’d expect from communists, sadly.

I realize Backwordz don’t need my support, but I sincerely wish that I could offer a more unequivocal endorsement. If there was a way to swap the message of Backwordz with the Prophets’ sound, I’d be singing a different tune. Backwordz’ music belongs to different generation, and the fact that they’ve attracted as much attention as they have is a testament to the fact that their music is speaking to people and providing value. The Left have been tremendously successful in mainstreaming their ideas through culture, so I’m glad they’re out there doing their thing. It’s entirely possible that they’ll reach more new people with rap-metal than the combined efforts of every single Mises Institute fellow.

Betsy DeVos Versus the Government Education Establishment


I have family members and close friends who currently or previously worked in public education, and I can assure you, dear reader, that the libertarian argument for free market education isn’t a position that’s held in high regard in my world. It is my sincere hope that those of you reading this who also oppose a competitive market for education services will take this post in a spirit of promoting a real diversity of political opinion. 
Betsy DeVos has been nominated for the Chair of the Department of Education, and as is the case with everything Trump says or does, the progressive establishment is having a conniption. Whether it’s her lack of Ivy League credentials, her advocacy of charter schools or her positively abhorrent donation to FIRE, Betsy DeVos has been branded Public Education Enemy Number 1 by the entire government education apparatus. In his recent piece in Reason, Robby Soave very carefully and methodically points out why all of them are wrong and it is they who are the ideologically hidebound zealots. 

Here’s the deal. 

Pretty much everyone agrees that education is important. The larger and more important question is over how best to promote real education; as in independent thought, critical thinking, a curious mind, marketable skills and a lifelong love of learning, versus just going to school.

It’s easy to view education as a “right”. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not. If you are honest, you will easily be able to recall numerous occasions when school felt pointless and utterly without value. And the real world bears this out.  Unless you cultivate entrepreneurial skills, a high school education is basically worthless in the marketplace.  A bachelor’s degree doesn’t necessarily add much more value to your marketability either. When you treat any good or service into a “right” for which the government makes provision, you destroy the incentive to provide actual value. 

Whenever the failure of public schools is discussed, “Reform” is the default cliché deployed. Anyone who suggests a market based alternative is just someone who hates children and only wants rich people to have education. Sadly, the Left is very good at painting opposition to government education as opposition to education itself while portraying themselves as Guardians of Knowledge and Social Justice from the mindless hordes of conservatards who just want to plunge America into a regressive New Dark Age of mandatory Christianity. It should be obvious to everyone that there is no such thing as “Reform”. Once you place a giant institution like education behind the government wall, there’s little you can do to truly reform it.  

Institutional learning only reinforces deference to itself. If you want to promote real individuality and critical thinking skills, a bureaucratic, compulsory school system won’t produce that result.  

I have plenty of skepticism over whether Betsy DeVos is going to make any meaningful difference, but I’m certainly willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The public school bureaucrats are the real zealots here. It’s easy to point the finger of reproach when you enjoy the tacit protection of the government. And no, it doesn’t make one goddamn bit of difference that she doesn’t have fancy degrees.  She’ll be in charge of a gigantic bureaucracy which sets the agenda for other bureaucracies. 

If nothing else, she should do everything in her power to squelch the Title IX jihadists and the campus star chambers dispensing extrajudicial “justice”.

The Philosophy of Star Trek


This is one of the best and most comprehensive overviews of the philosophy of Star Trek I’ve encountered. Absolutely worth your time if this subject interests you. 

James Madison: Federalist 10

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James Madison’s essay from 1787 is generally regarded as one of the most significant pieces of modern political thought. Its reputation and importance seem a little overrated since it identifies the very political maladies the newly formed federal republic sought to mitigate, but ultimately amplified.  It’s essentially a refutation of the limits of federal power the Constitution was theoretically meant to constrain. 

Federalist 10 focuses on mitigating political faction; the tendency of a political group to overwhelm and trample the rights of a minority. 

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

Madison was obviously attuned to the corrupting influence which accompanied the acquisition of political power as well as the attendant tendency of politicians to pit citizens against one another. He essentially asks you accept that this phenomenon is inevitable. He further proposes that there are only two courses of action; abolish all personal liberty or somehow engineer a mass consensus of uniform opinions and interest. 

There are again two methods of removing the causes of faction: the one, by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

Madison’s perception of man’s tendency to exploit the apparatus of state power to exploit and inflame the passions of citizens against one another is incisive and relevant. 

So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.

His specific identification of greed and envy and the tension between Haves and Have Nots that has animated the passions of political sociopaths for centuries is also spot on.

But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.

He begins to go off the rails by suggesting that statesmen are “enlightened” in the first place or that the “public good” is something that can be defined or achieved through the legislative process.  This sounds more like an admission of futility than an affirmation of sound principle.

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.

The solution to this inevitability is to mitigate the effects.

The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.

The specific mechanism by which this would be achieved is through a republican mode of governance over a democratic one.  Much is made of the difference between a democracy and a republic amongst Constitution wonks and paleoconservatives, and Madison draws a few useful distinctions between the two.

Madison rightfully points out the that the main flaw of democracy in which all are granted perfect equality of representation is that it devolves into tyranny.

Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

A republic, on the other hand, is a form of government in which citizens delegate power to a select number of representatives.  The distinction seems pretty arbitrary if those in power trample the liberty of the citizens, but Madison insists that this difference is crucial. 

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

Madison argues that these “enlightened” delegates presiding over the Union would somehow thwart this tendency towards faction, but each of the “wicked projects” he feared have materialized. Ironic, given that the first one he mentions, the “rage for paper money”, didn’t take very long to materialize and Alexander Hamilton is the guy who agitated for it. 

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project.

Each of the “wicked projects” he names were enacted or are being actively championed by one interest or another. Based on the palsied state of affairs and the dim view of Washington the public holds, the factious spirit is more an entrenched reality of the political process than ever.

If anything, Federalist 10 gives more credence to the Anti-Federalist position that the Constitution under consideration in Philadelphia in 1787 was destined for mission creep.  It seems less an affirmation of the soundness of the Constitution and more of a vague hope that things won’t degenerate quite as badly as other experiments in democratic government.

On the other hand, the political class has followed Madison’s advice very closely, and used it to their advantage. Despite the veneer of a vast ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans, the two party duopoly has been very successful in engineering a uniform consensus.  The limits on federal power were trampled starting with the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion and were arguably completely eroded during the Woodrow Wilson administration.  Presently, the President of the United States governs by Executive Order, and no one in Congress raises a peep of opposition. Democrats and Republicans are now completely united in preserving the institutions, policies, programs as well as the abuses, manufactured outrages and animosities which keep Americans obedient to the system.

The Constitution was meant to produce what John Adams famously described as “a government of laws, and not of men.” It was meant to delimit and constrain the power the federal government could exercise. In Federalist 10, James Madison seems to be preparing you for the inevitable destruction of that principle.

Lawrence Reed: Great Myths of the Great Depression

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I remember very little from the US history courses I took during my time in public schools. It felt like a relentless flogging of names and dates. I remember covering the major stuff. The Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, the Civil War, the World Wars, and of course, the Great Depression were presented as a mind numbing barrage of details to be dutifully regurgitated in an exam. Beyond my impression that the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was a funny sounding name for a piece of legislation, the most I remember about the Great Depression was that capitalism failed and the government under FDR’s leadership saved the day.  Based on the sentiments expressed by progressives to this day, this impression seems widely shared. 

However, this romantic view doesn’t square with reality.  A great deal of clear eyed research has been conducted to expose the factual record, and Great Myths of the Great Depression is a fantastic primer on the true legacy of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations. 

Written by Foundation for Economic Education president, Lawrence Reed, the piece is filled with interesting facts and summarizes the best of this research very effectively. Perhaps the most interesting revelation is how the Hoover administration’s economic activism paved the way for of the FDR administration’s highly interventionist policies of the New Deal. Contrary to popular mythology, Hoover was not the hands off, laissez-faire Republican many claim. 

Starting with a highly inflationary monetary policy spurred by the Fed, the 20’s stock market bubble was induced by central bankers. This catastrophe was only compounded by the Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 followed by the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930. These tariffs triggered deep contractions in agriculture and sparked an international trade war. In the wake of a global collapse in commodity and asset prices precipitated by the ’29 market crash, the Fed took a bad situation and made it worse by raising the Fed funds rate and throttling the money supply into a deflationary spiral.  Hoover further compounded the problems by increasing subsidies to businesses and farmers which were doled out through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Federal Farm Board respectively. Just as modern politicians and would-be intellectuals believe that high wage mandates lead to increased purchasing power and higher consumer spending, Hoover’s Department of Commerce bullied businesses into keeping wages high.  This allegedly laissez-faire president threw another wrench into an already sputtering economic engine by passing the Revenue Act of 1932.  Hardly the legacy of a president friendly to free markets. 

Ironically, the candidate who charged the Hoover administration of leading the country to socialism and promised to restore fiscal rectitude by shoring up the gold standard was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Rather than making good on these promises, FDR escalated every one of Hoover’s policies in ways that prolonged and protracted the misery of the Depression. 

Paving the way for the eventual destruction of sound money, one of FDR’s first major acts as president was to criminalize the ownership of gold through the signing of Executive Order 6102.  When you’ve got a hard money supply and you’ve got designs on an expanded warfare-welfare state, the Fed can inflate the money supply a little more easily if the proles don’t own too much gold. 

FDR’s first big legislative move which had the unfortunate effect of turning business into quasi-fascistic wards of the state was the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933.  Instead of responding to the natural forces of supply and demand, businesses were forced to comply with a raft of arbitrary mandates imposed from on high. 

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One of the particularly horrific and wasteful mandates of the New Deal was the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933; a legislative abomination that seemed more befitting of Stalin than an American president.  Crops were burned, livestock were slaughtered and taxes were levied all in service of eliminating surpluses and increasing the purchasing power of agriculture producers. Despite being initially stricken down as unconstitutional in 1936, the AAA’s destructive consequences weren’t limited to kneecapping the agriculture industry. The seed of the eventual destruction of the gold standard known as the Thomas Amendment was written into the AAA. This amendment paved the way for unlimited credit expansion by the Fed.  FDR would eventually revive the AAA in 1938 and institute a vast array of agriculture price supports, quotas and subsidies through Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and Commodity Credit Corporation. These actions enshrined an era of farm belt crony capitalism and big agribusiness for years to come. 

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By 1935, FDR implemented the Works Progress Administration. This bureaucracy doled out millions to fund domestic infrastructure projects. It also left a seemingly indelible impression of the virtues of federal economic activism in the minds of the public. Though many roads were paved and bridges built, a closer examination of the WPA legacy reveals more than a few arbitrary mandates, squandered resources and crony coffers lined. 

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Things went from bad to worse with the passage of the quasi-Marxist National Labor Relations Act of 1935 aka the Wagner Act.  The Wagner Act took labor grievances out of the courts and into the purview of a new federal bureaucracy, the National Labor Relations Board. Under the cover of legitimacy accorded by the Wagner Act and NRLB, labor unions could threaten and intimidate employers and nonunion workers into compliance and acquiescence.

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As if these actions weren’t damning enough, the origins of the 2008 housing crisis can also be traced to Federal Housing Act of 1934.  The vast complex of government sponsored entities and federal agencies were charged with overseeing home ownership mandates. Instead, they created a set of incentives which provided more than enough legislative helium for a housing bubble when conjoined with an inflationary monetary policy.

The conventional wisdom about the government’s role in alleviating the Great Depression and the private sector’s role in creating it is badly perverted.  Sadly, politicians benefit by peddling promises of prosperity that they can never fulfill.  Each dollar diverted towards a subsidy is a dollar of wealth destroyed which could have been diverted towards private enterprise. Each dollar of subsidy dispensed by a bureaucrat enriches a crony, aggrandizes the bureaucracy and diminishes the sphere of voluntary exchange.  Each minimum wage increase is an increase in production costs and prices low skill labor out of the market.  Each federal agency charged with upholding abstract notions of “public good” creates a license for corruption and moral hazard which only diminishes people’s faith in private enterprise. 

As politicians agitate anew for yet more intervention into an economy to “fix” problems that were legislated into existence with the laws they wrote, the history and legacy of the Great Depression deserves a deeper reexamination.  Mr. Reed’s essay is an essential starting point. 

Frédéric Bastiat: The Law

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I graduated from public high school and obtained a bachelor’s degree from a music school with some basic liberal arts requirements, and up until recently, I was never introduced to Frédéric Bastiat’s work. I’m disappointed by this fact, but after reading it, not surprised. 

Frédéric Bastiat’s masterpiece, The Law, should be read by everyone who values the freedom of the individual or a free society.  For those unfamiliar with Mr. Bastiat, he was a French businessman, political philosopher, and statesman and could be described as the Ron Paul of 19th century France. This book was published before he died and many justifiably regard it as his definitive masterpiece of political thought. The Law was intended as a response to the ascendant socialist policies and politicians. 

The Law is the megaton warhead of truth bombs. There isn’t so much as a wasted word. Every sentence bursts off the page and cuts through the fog of sophists, academics, socialists and would-be intellectuals with the precision of a Hanzo sword. 

The Law is a powerful argument that exemplifies the tradition of European classical liberal thought from which the American founding fathers drew inspiration and shaped the principles on which the modern libertarian movement is based. 

Bastiat argues that there is a supreme, natural law to which all written law must be subordinate, and that this ur-law has been perverted to serve its opposite purpose: legalized plunder. The right to “individuality, liberty and property” is the proper conception of the law and that the very existence of the state is merely the collective assignment of self-defense to a public institution.  Bastiat argues that as long as the state circumscribes itself to this function, individuals will not assign undue allegiance to the state nor petition for its expansion. It’s a compelling argument, but since socialism was ascendant when it was written, Bastiat attends to the logical consequences of empowering the state to engage in legalized plunder, the defining feature of socialist politics, in the remainder of the text. 

This book is one hundred sixty-six years old, and yet, everything in it would easily be shouted down as heretical and retrograde today by apologists for the state.  The truth of what he’s arguing cannot be denied. 

Bastiat righteously eviscerates the sheer elitism and contempt socialists have towards humanity by attempting to link moral choices and civic virtue to lawful coercive force. By supplanting the free choices of individuals with the forcible imposition of the will of the legislator and the bureaucrat, the socialist systematizes sociopathy, avarice and obedience.  All of the dysfunction Bastiat described in 1850 applies to the sad state of current affairs.

All of his observations of socialists are devastatingly accurate.  Socialists do not care for facts or reason and let neither get in the way of the forcible implementation of their agenda.  Socialists view humanity as empty vessels that need their divine guidance and their pretensions intellectual superiority. 

In the latter half of the book, Bastiat takes direct aim at the would-be ministrations of the philosophers, politicians and didacts of the day.  From Robespierre to Rousseau, Bastiat takes apart these insufferable authoritarians and their detestable designs on managing human affairs down to the last detail.  As a result of the perversion of the law to which this book is devoted, America and the West have colonized academia and created vast cottage industries dedicated to the various sects of state worship and their doctrines of obedience. The will to dominate others has polluted the minds and perverted the ambitions of people since the time of Plato, and Bastiat’s rebuke remains sadly relevant. Bastiat says it best:

If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?

Bastiat identifies the proper application of law as defensive force.  Every individual has an inviolable right to defend life and property. This is the sole function of the state confined to its proper role. In America presently, the respect for this basic, natural right is consistently undermined by the deranged and manipulative bleating of politicians, activists, and media alike in their ceaseless quest to consolidate power.  For some, mere ownership of firearms makes your motives suspect and armed protest will get you branded a terrorist by the bloodthirsty mob. 

One of the most provocative arguments is Bastiat’s skepticism towards universal suffrage.  Nowadays, all you hear from academic, media, identity politics and feminist circles is a relentless drumbeat of scorn and reproach heaped on the “white male capitalist patriarchy” and a seemingly ceaseless campaign to browbeat men everywhere into a posture of penitence for daring to exclude anyone from the ballot box despite having no role in crafting the founding documents.  It’s very easy and tempting to view Bastiat’s argument as the retrograde view of a man who wants everyone else to be subordinate, but this reasoning emerged from a philosophical conviction that political power was not meant to be coveted or actively pursued in service of anything beyond preservation of liberty in the first place. He contends that if the law were confined to its proper function, everyone’s interest would be the same. Films like Selma and Suffragette seem explicitly calculated to inculcate feelings of guilt and shame in men (white men specifically) for committing the unspeakable crime of disenfranchising women and minorities from voting. It’s more than a little ironic that feminists don’t want male politicians making decisions by legislative fiat over their reproductive choices, but are simultaneously completely content to advocate for expropriating resources for material benefits and special legal privileges by the same method.

Speaking of Suffragette, it’s also ironic that movie with such a pro-suffrage message seems to have borrowed from Mr. Bastiat. Bastiat wrote, “The safest way to make laws respected is to make them respectable”.  In the film, Violet Miller says, “You want me to respect the law? Then make the law respectable”.  Where was Inigo Montoya when we needed him?

Despite the attainment of universal suffrage, this achievement is apparently no longer sufficient either.  Between open appeals from our enlightened progressive overlords for mandatory voting and completely sincere appeals for children voting, the appetite for government sponsored avarice and unchallenged fealty to the state knows no boundaries.

Another important point Bastiat makes is that one cannot formulate political theory without first developing a rational, scientific theory of economics. Modern economic thought takes government intervention as a given. Bastiat died before the Marginal Revolution, but it’s apparent that his conception of economics assigned greater importance to human action and seemed closer to the theoretical framework of praxeology that was eventually articulated by Mises.  

As compelling as the idea of a limited state is, it seems fairly apparent that this idea has proven itself a failure. The law has been perverted to serve its opposite purpose, and many now take it as a given that the law must serve socialist agendas. Generally speaking, arguments to the contrary are immediately regarded with scorn, ridicule and censure. After years of inflammatory anti-capitalist rhetoric from the political, academic and media complex, we are living in a time when a self-identifying socialist is running for president. Imagine Mr. Bastiat’s disappointment in the current state of affairs were he alive to bear witness.

Despite the rhetoric of Constitutional conservatives and minarchists, they have no track record of success in scaling back the state.  During the Obama administration alone, the funding for the Department of Homeland Security dried up and the charter of the Ex-Im Bank was allowed to expire.  Both were revived and conservatives played a role in their restoration. And when conservative candidates for president openly champion minimum wage indexed to inflation, it’s fair to say that modern American conservatism has drifted far away from its original principles.

Forget the pretentious Marxists, socialists and the so-called anarcho-communists and their attempts to resuscitate dead ideas and pass them off as transgressive thought.  These people dominate academia and have plenty of sympathy in the media, political and intellectual classes and they continue to present themselves as beleaguered underdogs whose voices are being choked under the oppressive stranglehold of capitalism. What utter horseshit. 

Those who’ve borne the torch of liberty have always had to fight the socialists, centralizers, planners, and academic elitists who think they know what’s best for you. Sadly, the false promise of socialism retains its appeal in the 21st century. Fortunately, the message of The Law remains undimmed by the passage of time and more urgent than ever. 

Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now

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We find ourselves living in times of increased strife and conflict both domestically and abroad, and rational thought and open discourse often seem in short supply, and in some circles, under siege. As the war on terror, the ongoing debate over the role Islam plays in fueling violence and the battle for free speech weigh heavily on the body politic, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book, Heretic, arrives at a crucial moment and makes a fearless and important case which speaks to all three issues simultaneously.

The courage of this book burns like a bonfire of righteousness warding off an ever encroaching darkness of cynicism and nihilism. Ms. Hirsi Ali’s story and the argument contained in the book are a shining testimony to the durability of Western liberal ideas of universal rights and individual liberty.

The premise of Heretic is very straightforward. Ms. Hirsi Ali argues that Islam is not a religion of peace, the acts of barbarism and terrorism are encoded in the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the Hadith, and that if Islam is to be regarded as a religion of peace, it must undergo a Reformation.

One would certainly hope that a country like the United States founded on principles of Western thought, including and especially universal rights, would openly embrace Ms. Hirsi Ali’s call for reform, but the task is challenging even in a liberal society such as ours.  Presently, the current media and political environment is polluted and overcrowded by preening PC scolds and mendacious politicians who seem intent on both silencing any meaningful debate over Islam or sowing seeds of confusion with feebleminded postmodern appeals to nihilism and moral relativism.

Fortunately, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s clarion call for freedom and reform requires neither politicians nor leadership from above of any kind.  Though the primary audience for this book are the non-violent Muslims throughout the world she refers to as Mecca Muslims, anyone who values universal human rights and freedoms should have a stake in a Muslim Reformation.

Just as Christina Hoff Sommers drew a very useful distinction between gender feminism and equity feminism in Who Stole Feminism, Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes three important distinctions between Muslims. The first group she regards as Medina Muslims and are largely beyond reach. In other words, followers of Muhammad’s doctrines of violence against infidels found throughout the latter half of the Qur’an written in Medina and seek the union of mosque and state known as Sharia Law. Mecca Muslims, on the other hand, form the majority of the Islamic world, follow the peaceful teachings of Muhammad’s time in Mecca, but live in a state of “cognitive dissonance” with the modern world. The third group of Muslims are reformers and dissidents found throughout the Muslim world and the West who are putting their lives on the line to call for changes to a religion that has doggedly resisted change since its inception in the 7th century.

Contrary to what irritating sophists and preachy progressives would have you believe about Islam, virtually every horrific crime against humanity and decency you can name has foundations in Islamic text. From the barbaric corporal punishments of stoning and amputation mandated in Sharia to acts of martyrdom and jihad, each of these actions has foundations in scripture.

Contemporary feminists in the Western world have made both a cottage industry and a very influential political apparatus solely dedicated to whining about the alleged jackbooted oppression of the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, but these idiotic grievances are revealed as the petty and childish delusions they are when measured against the horrific treatment to which women are subjected by the actual patriarchal oppression of Islam. Whether it’s arranged marriages for young girls, gang rape, genital mutilation or the subordinate role to which all women in the Muslim world are routinely circumscribed, the absence of feminist outrage as well as the rote charges of Islamophobia are deeply revealing of the true intentions of Western establishment feminism.

Worse still, Islam’s collectivist, authoritarian, and murderous tendencies extend beyond Sharia Law and into the realm of extrajudicial justice known as “honor killings“.  Whenever any woman is perceived to bring dishonor to the family name, she is often subject to the harshest retribution. Sometimes from her own family.

The treatment of homosexuals and transgender folk is equally harsh. Once again, the fact that social justice progressives have opted to frame criticism of Islam as bigotry is both deeply ironic and revealing.

Far and away, Islam’s biggest crime against reason and humanity is the demand for the death penalty for apostasy. It goes without saying that Ayaan Hirsi Ali has put her life on the line to write this book. The Protestant Reformation begat the Scientific and Industrial Revolution and gave rise to the Enlightenment principles which have animated the human spirit and lit the fire of progress throughout America and the West.  Islam has resisted any comparable reform. This resistance to criticism has had only deleterious effects on the Islamic world. By resisting Reformation, the Islamic world has compromised economic and intellectual progress and produced generations of Muslims who value blind faith and obedience over individualism.

As Ms. Hirsi Ali so brilliantly states it, the Muslim Reformation will need a relentless campaign of blasphemy. The War on Terror will not ever succeed. The battle for human freedom must be fought with ideas, not bombs. Islam in its fullest expression is the union of mosque and state. This union must be severed.

Politicians and the social justice warriors who parrot their talking points are actively invested in browbeating dissidents into silence over Islam.  They need a divided population in order to sustain political and economic interests in the Middle East.  Fortunately, we do not need them. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has sounded the fanfare of freedom with this book. If this is something that matters to you, you know what you need to do.

Henry Hazlitt: Economics in One Lesson

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This book holds a vaunted status amongst libertarians. Not only does it live up to its reputation, it’s a damn shame that this isn’t the go-to text for anyone seeking a rational and clear-headed approach to economics. 

Hazlitt builds his case by taking the central fallacy found throughout mainstream economics. This fallacy was famously revealed in the Frédéric Bastiat parable, That Which is Seen and That Which is Unseen, and he proceeds to apply it to each realm of economic life. By applying this logic, he demonstrates how the various manifestations of government intervention destroy wealth, savings, and positive incentives to work and produce.  

Stated very simply, the lesson is this: the effects of economic policy cannot be evaluated in terms of its effects on one group, but on all groups. 

Not only do these fallacies persist, but they are accumulating strength and being accorded cultish deference. 

Hazlitt covers all the bases in his analysis. He opens with the one-two punch of the fallacy of destruction followed by a withering exposé of the production disincentives resulting from taxes. Hazlitt runs a steamroller of truth over every conceivable government policy initiative and deformation. The effects of automation, subsidies, loan guarantees, tariffs, trade quotas, industrial policy, price fixing, rent control, minimum wage, and inflation are all explored. 

The opening chapter exposes the perverse obsession with destruction as an economic incentive that persists to this day.  One only needs to peruse the pages of Rolling Stone to find this doctrine in the insufferable moronic blathering of Jesse Myerson. He openly praises rioting as some kind of economic boon and mutates the broken windows fallacy into an ugly article of faith.

The chapter pertaining to the rise of automation is particularly fascinating since fantasies of a “post-labor” economy are gaining traction in the media. The widespread belief of the imminent arrival of a world in which robots displace human labor hinges on the assumption that there is a finite amount of work to be done in the first place. Or perhaps the public fails to grasp the role price floors on labor may have played in hastening the creation of the automation in the first place.  Either way, the belief of a Star Trek-like world of plenitude has taken root. 

On the issue of free trade, Hazlitt argues that people are correct to be suspicious of free trade agreements like the TPP and NAFTA, but are mistaken to attribute any benevolence to the very idea of a managed trade agreement in the first place. Especially if it’s cloaked in gauzy rhetoric about workers and the environment.

Just what the government planners mean by free trade in this connection I am not sure, but we can be sure of some of the things they do not mean. They do not mean the freedom of ordinary people to buy and sell, lend and borrow, at whatever prices or rates they like and wherever they find it most profitable to do so. They do not mean the freedom of the plain citizen to raise as much of a given crop as he wishes, to come and go at will, to settle where he pleases, to take his capital and other belongings with him. They mean, I suspect, the freedom of bureaucrats to settle these matters for him. And they tell him that if he docilely obeys the bureaucrats he will be rewarded by a rise in his living standards. But if the planners succeed in tying up the idea of international cooperation with the idea of increased State domination and control over economic life, the international controls of the future seem only too likely to follow the pattern of the past, in which case the plain man’s living standards will decline with his liberties.

His analysis of minimum wage is as elegant a refutation of minimum wage as you’ll ever read.  He argues that the minimum wage is more correctly viewed as a minimum price law.  If the price of labor is artificially raised, the price of production is raised. Populist politicians always attempt to sell minimum wage law as a boon for low skill labor and ignore the adverse effects.  Sadly, the fervor for this boondoggle remains as strong as ever.

The most potent analysis by far is the section dealing with inflation.  As we enter our 10th year of ZIRP administered by our allegedly benevolent overlords at the Fed, the ill gotten gains and economic perversions abound. While politicians beat the drums of hate and envy, they draw more support for further expropriation as a corrective. 

Economics in One Lesson is a timeless classic and the lesson contained in its pages burns with even greater urgency. It’s easy to look at the current state of affairs and despair, but Hazlitt ends with an optimistic note. The principles for which Hazlitt fought are indeed proliferating, but the voices agitating for socialism grow louder as well. The best defense against the lazy and callous recriminations of apparatchiks and statists is this righteous lightsaber of reason left for us by a Jedi master of economics.