Topic: Political Philosophy

Will the Real Herbert Spencer Please Stand Up?

In a hit piece on Rand Paul posted on ThinkProgress, Ian Millhiser has taken guilt by association to new heights, and, in the process, fundamentally misrepresented the views of Herbert Spencer.

In “Rand Paul’s Favorite Philosophers Think Poor People Are ‘Parasites,’” Millhiser attempts to connect Rand Paul to 19th-century classical liberal philosopher Herbert Spencer. He does this by constructing a stunningly attenuated chain of influences: Rand Paul to his father Ron Paul, who was unquestionably influential on his thinking; Ron Paul to Murray Rothbard, by whom Ron Paul was greatly influenced; and Murray Rothbard to Herbert Spencer, whose book Social Statics Rothbard called “the greatest single work of libertarian political philosophy ever written.”

Millhiser offers no direct evidence that Rand Paul himself is a fan of Herbert Spencer, even though he implies so in his title. Despite this bit of journalistic malfeasance, Millhiser marches bravely forward with further misrepresentations about Spencer’s ideas, and, by implication, Senator Paul’s. Here Millhiser is joining a long, if not admirable, tradition of people misrepresenting Herbert Spencer’s ideas in order to attack proponents of capitalism. As usual, those critics are wrong about what Spencer himself actually wrote and believed.

Paul Krugman Can’t Find Any Libertarians

Paul Krugman has a blog post at the New York Times that seems to be based on no research at all. But it has a snappy four-cell matrix so you’ll know it’s like real economics.

Krugman’s argument is that “there basically aren’t any libertarians.” And here’s the graph that proves it:

Krugman libertarians box

See how small the letters are in two of the boxes? That shows you that there aren’t any people in those boxes. “There ought in principle, you might think, be people who are pro-gay-marriage and civil rights in general, but opposed to government retirement and health care programs — that is, libertarians — but there are actually very few.” And there are also very few people who are “socially illiberal” and supportive of government social programs, he says.

But you know, there’s research on this. David Kirby and I have done some of it, in studies on “the libertarian vote.” But two political scientists examined a similar matrix back in 1984 and found roughly even numbers of people in each box.

Part of the trick here is that Krugman has used a vague term, “socially liberal,” for one of the dimensions of the matrix, and a radical policy position, “no social insurance,” for the other dimension. The logical way would be to use either common vague terms for both dimensions – say “socially liberal/conservative” and “fiscally liberal/conservative” – or specific and similarly radical terms for both dimensions, something like “no social insurance” and “repeal all drug laws.” Wonder how many people would be in the boxes then? 

“No social insurance” is a very radical position. Even many libertarians wouldn’t support it. Like Hayek. So to find the divisions in our society, we might choose a specific issue of personal freedom – gay marriage, say – along with an equally controversial economic policy such as school choice or a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.

Familiar Yet Forgotten Tax Lessons from Ancient Greece and Rome

In Ancient Greece, “The politicians strained their ingenuity to discover new sources of public revenue… . The results of these imposts was a wholesale hiding of wealth and income, Evasion became universal, goods were seized, men were thrown into jail. But the wealth still hid itself, or melted away.”

–Will Durant The Life of Greece, Simon and Schuster, 1939. P. 66.

 In ancient Rome; “taxation rose to such heights that men lost incentive to work or earn, and an erosive contest began between lawyers finding devices to evade taxes and lawyers formulating laws to prevent evasion. The government issued decrees binding the peasant to his field and the worker to his shop until all his debts and taxes had been paid. In this and other ways medieval serfdom began.”

–Will, and Durant, Ariel. The Lessons ofHistory, Simon and Schuster, 1968.

Rand Paul and the Future of Conservatism

Libertarians are by definition individualistic, and so the sorts of debates you often hear at their gatherings often revolve around questioning someone’s ideological bona fides or debating how much libertarians should get involved in the messy, compromise-filled world of politics. Rand Paul’s formal entry into the 2016 presidential campaign crystallizes both of these discussions – and David Boaz offers thoughtful perspectives on whether Paul is a real libertarian and whether a libertarian-leaning politician can win the GOP nomination.

But another way of framing that debate is to approach it from the perspective of those who are comfortably on “the Right” but without fully labeling themselves either conservative or libertarian. Frank Meyer, father of longtime Federalist Society president Eugene Meyer, launched such a “fusionist” project in the pages of National Review. Half a century later, another NR writer, Charlie Cooke, has issued a Conservatarian Manifesto (which I’ve reviewed for a forthcoming issue of the Cato Journal). 

So is Rand Paul that magical candidate who can finally “unite the right” in this manner? We’ve seen glimpses of that possibility, and two years ago, I penned an op-ed with my social-conservative friend Francisco Gonzalez of the James Madison Institute (Florida’s leading free-market think tank) that posited that Paul “can shape the future of conservatism”:

As a libertarian and a traditional conservative, we disagree with Paul on a number of issues. Yet we both see his constitutional conservatism as auguring a future in which social tolerance, fiscal temperance and a humbler role for government are pursued not as ends in themselves but because that’s the best path… .

1. Its social policy will focus primarily on protecting freedom of conscience in an increasingly pluralistic society, while undoing the excesses of the drug war and punitive sentencing for nonviolent crime… .

2. This new conservatism will align with the ideas of governors such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who are fighting battles for domestic policy reform… .

Learning the History of Liberty from the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism

In an interesting discussion of social change and especially the best ways to spread classical liberal ideas at Liberty Fund’s Online Library of Liberty, historian David M. Hart has high praise for the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism (published by Sage in conjunction with the Cato Institute):

The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism provides an excellent survey of the key movements, individuals, and events in the evolution of the classical liberal movement….

One should begin with Steve Davies’ “General Introduction,” pp. xxv-xxxvii, which is an excellent survey of the ideas, movements, and key events in the development of liberty, then read some of the articles on specific historical periods, movements, schools of thought, and individuals.

Religious Persecution: First Freedom Remains Under Global Siege

Americans take religious liberty for granted. But four of five people around the world lack the freedom to worship and live faithfully.

The Pew Research Center, with Peter Henne as lead researcher, recently issued its latest study on religious liberty. The report makes for a sad read.

In some nations governments suppress the faithful. In other countries people make their societies unfriendly to minority beliefs, imposing a wide range of less formal sanctions, including murder.

The overall global environment to religious faith is hostile. Concluded the study:  “restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39 percent of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77 percent of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76 percent in 2012 and 68 percent as of 2007.”

Christians and Muslims, who make up the largest share of the world’s population, are the most widely harassed faiths (in 102 and 99 countries, respectively)—in both cases, ironically, far more grievously in Muslim than Christian nations.

But particularly worrisome has been the increase in anti-Semitism. Noted Pew: “there has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were harassed,” to 77, a recent peak. The problem is more social than government, and is evident in 34 of 45 European nations.

In 2013 18 nations were found to have “very high” levels of government restrictions. A Baker’s Dozen of the chief miscreants were Muslim states: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

Four were classically authoritarian and/or Communist/post-Communist (so were the three Central Asia nations listed previously): Burma, China, Eritrea, and Russia. The surprising outlier was Singapore, which bans particular sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. (North Korea could not be ranked due to a lack of data.)

There is substantial overlap between persecuting states and those with significant social hostilities, but also some notable differences. Seventeen make the disreputable very high antagonism category.

M. Stanton Evans, R.I.P.

Back in the late 1940s, when the modern welfare state was all but unopposed in America, a small band of conservatives and libertarians emerged from Yale University, “standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’” as the late William F. Buckley Jr. would later write. Following Buckley as editor of the Yale Daily News was another giant of what would become—in several variations today—the movement to oppose that state, M. Stanton Evans. A libertarian conservative in the mold of the National Review’s great fusionist, Frank S. Meyer, Stan died last week at the age of 80.

After leaving Yale, Stan worked with Leonard Reed, founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, serving briefly as assistant editor of the Freeman under Frank Chodorov and studying under Ludwig von Mises at NYU. Perhaps his most important early contribution, however, was as draftsman in 1960 of the Sharon Statement, the principles on which Young Americans for Freedom was founded, the first significant national conservative organization. That and more of Stan’s career was well covered last week by the New York Times: the youngest editor of a major daily in America, the Indianapolis News, where he served for 15 years; head of the American Conservative Union from 1971 to 1977, which joined Ed Crane, Eugene McCarthy, the ACLU, and others in Buckley v. Valeo, the seminal 1976 campaign finance decision; and founder and head from 1977 to 2002 of Washington’s National Journalism Center, which trained hundreds of now-noted journalists.

But apart from his many other accomplishments, including his several books, it was Stan’s humor and infectious personality that so many of us remember. George Will caught it perfectly in a Summer 2006 Cato’s Letter: “The Cato Institute understands the nature of the modern liberal,” Will wrote; “in the words of M. Stanton Evans, a modern liberal is someone who doesn’t care what you do as long as it’s compulsory.” Stan reveled in tweaking humorless liberals—“Any country that can land a man on the moon can abolish the income tax”—but he didn’t spare conservative either—“I never really cared for Nixon, until Watergate.”

As graduate students at the University of Chicago in the early 1970s, my wife Juliana and I had the great pleasure of entertaining Stan after the talk we’d invited him to give at the university. An early rock-‘n’-roller myself, I did not know what we were in for once Stan saw my guitar in the corner. It turned out he knew the words—and the beat—to every hit we could name—and the night was young! Whoever said conservatives were no fun didn’t know Stan.