Tag: libertarianism

Fusionism: Hot or Cold?

This Thursday at Cato, we’re hosting a book forum on the new book by vice chairman of the American Conservative Union Donald J. Devine: America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution. (Register here).

Devine’s conservative credentials are impeccable: a veteran of the Reagan campaign, he served as head of the administration’s Office of Personnel Management, where, as a Washington Post profile once put it, “at the mere mention of his name, federal workers grit their teeth and express fear and loathing.” He was also an early and vocal critic of the George W. Bush administration for enabling massive government growth, “fueled by neoconservative dreams of empire and which threatens the whole project of American liberty.”

How can the Right recover from the wreckage of the Bush years? In America’s Way Back, Devine makes “the case for 21st century ‘fusionism’” — a reinvigoration of the Cold War–era conservative-libertarian alliance that employed “libertarian means for traditionalist ends.”

He can expect some friendly pushback from our commentator, Reason magazine editor Matt Welch, a fusionism skeptic who has (with Reason’s Nick Gillespie) argued that traditional political groupings are fast becoming moribund, and the rise of political “independents (especially of the libertarian flavor) hint strongly that another form—something unpredictable, fantastical, liberating—is gathering to take their place.”

I’ll be moderating what promises to a lively discussion on libertarianism, conservatism, and the future of the Right. Register now!

Guide to Libertarian Movies

I’m delighted to report that Miss Liberty’s Guide to Film is available again—on Kindle. My friend Jon Osborne worked for years on this project, but the 2001 book has been out of print for years. It’s the best available guide to movies with libertarian themes, with more than 250 short reviews.

What are the best libertarian films? Well, the book doesn’t rank them, but some that make his list of Top Libertarian Films are Amistad, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, Shenandoah, and We the Living. Libertarians may be familiar with all of those, but he also recommends the lesser-known Cash McCall, East-West, Improper Conduct, and many more.

No such list is exhaustive, of course, or uncontroversial. When I listed some of my own favorite libertarian-themed films, I included some that Osborne doesn’t: So Big (1953) and My Beautiful Laundrette. Not to mention the republican Gladiator and the anti-Nazi, anti-communist Sunshine, both released in 2000.

Few if any of these movies are like libertarian essays on film. Osborne includes movies that have such themes as anti-socialism (under which he includes anti-National Socialism), anti-war, bureaucratic abuse of power, creator as hero, freedom of speech, individualism, social tolerance, and voluntaryism. Each film is rated for both its libertarian content and its entertainment value, and also briefly reviewed.

Osborne mostly stopped reviewing—and maybe even seeing—movies when his daughter was born, so there aren’t many movies here from the past decade. But from All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) to Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), there are enough movies here to keep you busy for the rest of the year.

Richard Epstein’s Ricochet Post on the NSA

Over at the Ricochet website, Richard Epstein elaborates on his defense of the NSA surveillance programs that were recently exposed by Edward Snowden.  In this post, I want to scrutinize some of Epstein’s observations and arguments.

Epstein begins by waving off the track record of government abuse generally.  Forget about the recent IRS scandal and the Associated Press wiretaps, he says, we must focus instead on the “parts of the government” that are organized to address terrorist activity.  According to Epstein, those parts of the government “seem to have performed well.”  Thus, he concludes, we should have confidence in the federal government’s efforts to stop terrorists.

Let’s take a closer look at the “parts of the government” that address terrorism:

•    The Federal Bureau of Investigation:  The Inspector General of the Department of Justice found that between 2003 and 2007, the FBI violated the law or government policies as many as 3,000 times as agents collected phone and financial records.  A few years later, another investigation found that the FBI repeatedly broke the law while monitoring telecommunications.  Major telecom companies had their employees detailed to work in FBI office space and they would respond to very informal verbal requests for phone records, including the “calling circles” of certain reporters.  One FBI agent said it was like having an ATM next to his desk.

•    The Central Intelligence Agency: It is still hard to believe that the American government hid prisoners from the Red Cross and engaged in torture, but it happened.  In 2005, CIA Director Porter Goss went on a TV show and said “What we do does not come close to torture … We do debriefings.”  The American public was repeatedly misled about the prisoner policies, but we later learned about the “black sites” and “ghost prisoners.”  The CIA also destroyed audio and video tapes of its interrogation practices even after the federal courts issued orders to preserve such evidence.

•    The Pentagon:  We have also seen problems in the U.S. military.  The Pentagon kept a database of persons who protested against the Iraq war.  We also know that American prisoners, such as John Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla, were badly mistreated while in military custody.  And those were among the most highly publicized cases.  (The treatment of Bradley Manning is worth mentioning even though he is not an accused terrorist.)  For the non-publicized cases, let’s just recall the letter from U.S. Army Captain Ian Fishback to Senator John McCain: “Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”   

The Kids Are All Right

Is libertarianism a worldwide trend among young people? There are poll reports from the United States, Great Britain, and Turkey this week that point in that direction.

The College Republican National Committee put out a report finding that young voters are very much against excessive government spending (though they do support higher taxes on the wealthy) and are strongly in favor of gay marriage. They want to reform entitlements but see the Republican party as “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned.”

Meanwhile, the Economist, in an editorial titled “The strange rebirth of liberal England” (in an allusion to a famous history book), writes, “Young Britons have turned strikingly liberal, in a classical sense….The young want Leviathan to butt out of their pay cheques as well as their bedrooms.” An accompanying article declares, “Britain’s youth are not just more liberal than their elders. They are also more liberal than any previous generation”:

Young Britons are classical liberals: as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility. In America they would be called libertarians.

More than two-thirds of people born before 1939 consider the welfare state “one of Britain’s proudest achievements”. Less than one-third of those born after 1979 say the same. According to [the long-running British Social Attitudes survey], members of Generation Y are not just half as likely as older people to consider it the state’s responsibility to cover the costs of residential care in old age. They are also more likely to take such a hard-hearted view than were members of the famously jaded Generation X (born between 1966 and 1979) at the same stage of life.

“Every successive generation is less collectivist than the last,” says Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, a pollster.

And finally comes this headline from the Hurriyet Daily News in Istanbul: 

Protesters are young, libertarian and furious at Turkish PM, says survey

An online survey of 3000 protesters conducted by two academics found, among other things:

A majority of the protesters who completed the survey, 81.2 percent, defined themselves as “libertarian.” A total of 64.5 percent of the respondents defined themselves as “secular.”

Maybe this really is the libertarian momentStudents for Liberty attracted 1,400 attendees to its February national conference, and another 365 to a European conference in March. Now, as the Economist says, if only the young people will vote – and the parties will offer them candidates.

George Smith’s Long-Awaited Book: The System of Liberty

The System of LibertyGeorge H. Smith is one of the best-read, most insightful libertarians living today. He is the author of most of the Cato University Home Study Course, which you should definitely download. He writes a weekly article for Libertarianism.org titled “Excursions into the History of Libertarian Thought.” He is the author of Atheism: The Case Against God (1974), Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies (1991), and audio series on “Great Political Thinkers,” “The Meaning of the U.S. Constitution,” and “The Ideas of Liberty.” And finally – finally – he has been persuaded to write down much of what he knows about the history of classical liberal thought in a new book from the Cato Institute and the Cambridge University Press, The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism.

It’s a great study of classical liberalism and the relations among such liberal ideas as individualism, natural rights, utilitarianism, self-sovereignty, and what Lord Acton called “the polar star of liberty.” Along the way he answers such criticisms of liberalism as “atomistic individualism” and “social Darwinism.” It’s a college course in political philosophy in just 217 very readable pages. Buy it now for the low low price of $24.95.

Is This the Libertarian Moment?

In 2008 Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch hailed a “libertarian moment,” encompassing everything from the Internet to the collapse of “legacy” industries and legacy entitlement programs. I’ve used the same term here, when NPR talked about Ron Paul and when polls showed rising support for smaller government, gay marriage, and drug legalization.

But suddenly, today, everyone seems to see a libertarian moment. Driving in to work, I got so tired of the smug self-satisfaction on public radio’s pledge drive, I switched to the vigorously right-wing Chris Plante Show just in time to hear Plante say, “This is a great day for libertarianism” in regard to the abuse-of-power stories dominating the mainstream media.

And then, mirabile dictu, I got to the office, opened the Washington Post, and found today’s column by Michael Gerson. Now, as he says in today’s column, Gerson is “conspicuously not a libertarian.” Indeed, he is the most vociferously anti-libertarian columnist in contemporary punditry. And yet his column today is titled (in the print paper):

Making libertarians of us all

Man, you’ve got to abuse power something awful to make Michael Gerson start thinking libertarian. So thanks, IRS and Justice Department!

And now that the Obama administration’s abuse of power has got our attentioncan we broaden our focus to take in health care mandates, recess appointments, campus speech regulations, the anti-constitutional Independent Payment Advisory Board, similar extra-legislative bodies in Dodd-Frank, the expropriation of Chrysler creditors, and illegal wars? 

Was William Shakespeare the First Libertarian?

I’ve never been a big Shakespeare fan, but that may need to change. It seems the Bard of Avon may be the world’s first libertarian.

Some of you are probably shaking your heads and saying that this is wrong, that Thomas Jefferson or Adam Smith are more deserving of this honor.

Others would argue we should go back earlier in time and give that title to John Locke.

But based on some new research reported in Tax-news.com, we need to travel back to the days of Shakespeare:

Uncertainty over the likely future success of his plays led William Shakespeare to do “all he could to avoid taxes,” new research by scholars at Aberystwyth University has claimed. The collaborative paper: “Reading with the Grain: Sustainability and the Literary Imagination,”…alleges that, in his “other” life as a major landowner, Shakespeare avoided paying his taxes, illegally hoarded food and sidelined in money lending. …According to Dr Jayne Archer, lead author and a lecturer in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth: “There was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright - a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximize profits at others’ expense and exploit the vulnerable - while also writing plays.”

In that short excerpt, we find three strong indications of Shakespeare’s libertarianism.

  1. What does it mean that Shakespeare did everything he could to avoid taxes? His actions obviously would have upset the United Kingdom’s current political elite, which views tax maximization as a religious sacrament, but it shows that Shakespeare believed in the right of private property. Check one box for libertarianism.
  2. What does it mean that the Bard “illegally hoarded food”? Well, such a law probably existed because government was interfering with the free market with something like price controls. Or there was a misguided hostility by the government against “speculation,” similar to what you would find from the deadbeats in today’s Occupy movement. In either event, Shakespeare was standing up for the principle of freedom of contract. Check another box for libertarianism.
  3. Last but not least, what does it mean that Shakespeare “sidelined in money lending”? Nations used to have statist “usury laws” that interfered with the ability to charge interest when lending money. Shakespeare apparently didn’t think “usury” was a bad thing, so he was standing up for the liberty of consenting adults to engage in voluntary exchange. Check another box for libertarianism.