Topic: Political Philosophy

Just Say No to Socialism, Hillary

This week Hillary Clinton became the second prominent Democrat to refuse to answer the question, “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?”

In July MSNBC host Chris Matthews stumped Democratic national chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) with the question. Asked three times, Wasserman Schultz first looked blank, then evaded: “The relevant debate that we’ll be having this campaign is what’s the difference between a Democrat and a Republican….The difference between a Democrat and Republican is that Democrats fight to make sure everybody has an opportunity to succeed and the Republicans are strangled by their right-wing extremists.”

On Tuesday Matthews asked Clinton the same question. Clinton could see it coming, and she did say of socialism, “I’m not one.” But pressed to explain “What’s the difference between a socialist and a Democrat?” she too retreated to boilerplate:

I can tell you what I am, I am a progressive Democrat … who likes to get things done. And who believes that we’re better off in this country when we’re trying to solve problems together. Getting people to work together. There will always be strong feelings and I respect that, from, you know, the far right, the far left, libertarians, whoever it might be, we need to get people working together.

Hey, thanks for the “libertarians” plug, Madam Secretary! But seriously, why is this a hard question? Here’s a clear answer:

“Socialists believe in government ownership of the means of production, and Democrats don’t.”

Would that be a true statement? If so, why don’t Clinton and Wasserman Schultz just say it?

Today Is Bill of Rights Day

Today is Bill of Rights Day. So it’s an appropriate time to consider the state of our constitutional safeguards.

Let’s consider each amendment in turn.

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” Government officials, however, have insisted that they can gag recipients of “national security letters” and censor broadcast ads in the name of campaign finance reform and arrest people for simply distributing pamphlets on a sidewalk.

The Second Amendment says the people have the right “to keep and bear arms.” Government officials, however, make it difficult to keep a gun in the home and make it a crime for a citizen to carry a gun for self-protection.

The Third Amendment says soldiers may not be quartered in our homes without the consent of the owners. This safeguard is one of the few that is in fine shape – so we can pause here for a laugh.

The Fourth Amendment says the people have the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. Government officials, however, insist that they can conduct commando-style raids on our homes and treat airline travelers like prison inmates by conducting virtual strip searches.

The Fifth Amendment says that private property shall not be taken “for public use without just compensation.” Government officials, however, insist that they can use eminent domain to take away our property and give it to other private parties who covet it.

Happy Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day, a time we should celebrate great advances in human freedom through history—the rise of the rule of law, the abolition of slavery, the spread of religious liberty, the secular decline of violence, respect for free speech, etc.—as well as honor those groups and individuals working to promote or safeguard human rights in the many parts of the world they are currently being violated or threatened.

At Cato, we have been honored to host and work with human rights champions from around the globe, all of whom have suffered persecution for speaking truth to power. The list includes renowned Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, independent Cuban blogger and journalist Yoani Sanchez, Malaysian politician and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, Russian liberty advocate Garry Kasparov, Chinese activist  Chen Guangcheng (sometimes known as the blind, “barefoot lawyer”) and many more.

Because we believe in the inherent dignity of individuals, human freedom is worth defending. For that reason, and because freedom plays a central role in human progress, it is also worth gaining a better measure and understanding of the spread of,  and limitations on, freedom around the world. That’s why we created the Human Freedom Index in conjunction with the Fraser Institute and the Liberales Institute. The index is the most comprehensive global measure of civil, personal and economic freedom so far devised. And although Human Rights Day technically commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we think the Human Freedom Index and its definition of freedom—the absence of coercive constraint—can help us think more carefully about the state of freedom around the world.

You may view the index here, see how countries and regions of the world rank, examine how income and democracy relate to freedom, get a sense of how various freedoms relate to one another, and otherwise gauge how the world is doing on 76 distinct indicators.

Other Cato activities and publication that may be of interest on Human Rights Day include:

Recent events

“The Deteriorating State of Human Rights in China”

“Property Rights Are Human Rights: Why and How Land Titles Matter to Indigenous People”

“Islam, Identity, and the Future of Liberty in Muslim Countries”

“Magna Carta and the Rule of Law around the World”

“The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice and Freedom”

Publications

The Tyranny of Silence by Flemming Rose

The Power of Freedom: Uniting Human Rights and Development by Jean-Pierre Chauffour

Realizing Freedom by Tom Palmer

“Islam and the Spread of Individual Freedoms: The Case of Morocco” by Ahmed Benchemsi

“Capitalism’s Assault on the Indian Caste System,” by Swami Aiyar

“Magna Carta’s Importance for America,” by Roger Pilon

Illiberalism

Jonathan Chait comments on the University of Missouri failure:

The upsurge of political correctness is not just greasy-kid stuff, and it’s not just a bunch of weird, unfortunate events that somehow keep happening over and over. It’s the expression of a political culture with consistent norms, and philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism. The reason every Marxist government in the history of the world turned massively repressive is not because they all had the misfortune of being hijacked by murderous thugs. It’s that the ideology itself prioritizes class justice over individual rights and makes no allowance for legitimate disagreement.

Chait deserves praise. I had thought the time was past – long past – when a committed Social Democrat could hold liberal views on the freedom of speech. Time to jettison my prior beliefs about Jonathan Chait. But he is pretty much alone, no?

I see political correctness in this instance as an outgrowth of egalitarianism, a worldview that sees everywhere only oppressors and the oppressed. The former can have no rights that the latter are bound to respect, and thus it makes perfect sense, as the law professor Owen Fiss once proposed, to “restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others.”

Free speech needs support from the political left. It is hard to see how such support might be revived.

Whatever Happened to the Left’s Love of Free Speech?

There was a time in America when the Left could be counted on to defend free speech. But as countless examples today demonstrate, those days are long gone. From campus speech codes to campaign finance to prosecutorial threats against climate change critics and more, the evidence is as fresh as this morning’s newspapers.

Campus assaults have been so well documented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that they need no elaboration here. But the latest campaign finance “reform”—“until the court reverses its decision in Citizens United”—can be found championed in an op-ed in this morning’s Washington Post by such stalwarts of the Left as Yale Law School’s Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayers. On Tuesday last, it seems, Seattle voters approved a measure that would “give” each registered voter a $100 “democracy voucher” that could be spent “for only one purpose—to support their favorite candidates for municipal office.” The city can of course “give” that $100 voucher only if it first “takes” the $100 from its taxpayers, which it will do in all the unequal ways that modern tax systems exhibit. Thus is the political speech of private individuals reduced by forcing the funds they might otherwise direct to candidates of their choice to be redirected through this public funding scheme to candidates they may oppose.

But that inroad on free speech pales in comparison to recent attacks on what most Americans would have thought were the free speech rights of climate skeptics, the RICO-ing of whom my colleague Walter Olson has been covering—along with the machinations of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The latest from the latter is all over the papers today, the Post’s headline reading “Exxon investigated over climate change research.” The Left has already browbeaten Exxon Mobil into ending its funding for think tanks and advocacy organizations that express climate change skepticism. Now, however, it’s getting more serious, with Schneiderman issuing a subpoena that focuses, we’re told, “on whether Exxon Mobil intentionally clouded public debate about science and hid from investors the risks that climate change could pose to its business.” “Clouded?” What, a debate that is crystal clear? That of course is what the environmental establishment would like as to believe.

And circling back to the academy, so too, apparently, would one Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard University and a critic of Exxon who laments that we haven’t yet implemented a carbon tax. There are many reasons we haven’t, she tells the Post, but a significant one “is the role of Exxon Mobil and others in fomenting disinformation, undermining public support for such initiatives, and lobbying against policies that would have begun to decrease our fossil fuel dependency.” And this from a professor of the history of science, the annals of which are littered with the corpses of “settled science.” Clearly, if we don’t stop this speaking and lobbying, we could have one more corpse.

New Video Guide to Libertarianism

I hope everybody’s read my book The Libertarian Mind. Not to mention the companion volume The Libertarian Reader.

But for those who prefer listening or watching videos to reading, I’m excited to announce my new online Introduction to Libertarianism, the first of several Guides to libertarian ideas produced by Libertarianism.org. Each Guide will include an introductory video, a series of video lectures, and a featured book, along with additional reading lists, essays, and links to other materials. Here’s a peek:

Coming soon: Guides on such topics as economics, political philosophy, and public policy, generally with a short original book to accompany the videos. For the Introduction to Libertarianism, the accompanying book is The Libertarian Mind. The 14 short lectures – 10 to 20 minutes each – track the sections of the book:

The Early Roots of Libertarianism

The Classical Liberal Era

The Modern Libertarian Revival

What Rights Do We Have?

The Dignity of the Individual

Pluralism and Toleration

Law and the Constitution

Civil Society

Networks of Trust

The Market Process

The Seen and the Unseen and International Trade

What Big Government Is All About

Public Choice

The Obsolete State

My colleagues at Libertarianism.org and I have tried to create the best available introduction to libertarianism here in 2015. And by the way, even though it’s called “Introduction,” I think almost any libertarian will find some new and interesting material in both the lectures and The Libertarian Mind.

Read the book! And check out the video lectures at Libertarianism.org. 

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Down with the “Joyful Campaign”

I have a piece running in the Federalist this week on the notion that presidential candidates should campaign “joyfully,” as Jeb Bush ever more desperately insists that he is. It’s not clear why we’re supposed to want joyful candidates, but that seems to be the prevailing norm. Hardly a week goes by without reporters needling the contestants: are you having fun yet? I wrote the column before former Senator Fred Thompson passed away on Sunday, but it occurred to me that his failed 2008 run is a perfect illustration of how perverse the cult of campaign-trail positivity has become. 

By almost any measure, Thompson had a full life: a Watergate Committee counsel whose questioning revealed the existence of the White House tapes; U.S. senator from Tennessee; “Law and Order,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “Die Hard 2.” But his short-lived presidential campaign isn’t part of the highlight reel. The Tenneseean put it gently in their obituary: “Mr. Thompson underwhelmed” in his 2008 bid. The press was harsher when Thompson dropped out of the race. “You must show an interest in running for the most powerful office in the world to gain that office,” John Dickerson scolded in Slatebut “The press copies of his daily schedule always looked like they’d been handed out with a couple of the pages missing. The candidate seemed like he might just show up for events in Fred08sweatpants.” “As his hopes cratered,” Politico chided, “the former Tennessee senator increasingly voiced his displeasure with a process he plainly loathed. Thompson’s stump speech became mostly a bitter expression of grievance against what was expected of him or any White House hopeful.” Ha: what a weird old grouch! I mean, the guy’s an actor, and he still couldn’t fake it! What’s wrong with him?

And yet, earlier generations of Americans would have viewed Thompson’s reticence as reassuring. As the political scientist Richard J. Ellis explained in an insightful 2003 article, “The Joy of Power: Changing Conceptions of the Presidential Office,” early American political culture took it as self-evident that anyone who seemed to relish the idea of wielding power over others couldn’t be trusted with it. “Presidential candidates largely stayed home in dignified silence,” he wrote, “ready to serve if called by the people….Distrusting demagoguery and tyranny, the dutiful presidency demanded dignity, reserve and self-denial from its presidents.”