Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Amy H. Sturgis
There's no word yet if the 21st-century Prisoner will be as overtly libertarian as Patrick McGoohan's original anti-authoritarian classic.
Amy H. Sturgis
Last year's focus was surveillance. Artist Todd Lyles set the tone with his striking parody of Uncle Sam: "I Watch You."
Kenneth R. Gregg
Jean-François Revel (1/19/1924-5/30/2006)was, as Henri Astier has correctly pointed out, was a European classical liberal admirer of American individualism. The more than thirty books, including Anti-Americanism, How Democracies Perish and, perhaps his best-known Without Marx or Jesus which he authored are often frustrating in their density, and frequently leaves one desiring that he not be, well, quite so"French" in his thinking, but he was a French writer in the best sense of the term. Astier says, he
was not just the grand old man of French political literature; he was a leading exponent of freedom in the tradition of Raymond Aron, Alexis de Tocqueville and Baron Montesquieu.
Revel, initially a philosopher, made his name in 1957 with a critique of the intellectual fashions of the time, Pourquoi les Philosophes? (Why Philosophers?). The book contended that philosophy, having spawned a host of disciplines – mathematics, physics, biology, history and the social sciences, as well as the scientific method itself – was itself no longer a creative force...
In the 1960s Revel continued to contribute to the history of ideas, with a book on Proust and a history of western philosophy. He ventured into politics at the end of the decade with his first international bestseller, Without Marx or Jesus (1970) [which].... argued that today’s true progressive force was not Marxist collectivism but US-style individualism. "The 20th-century revolution will take place in the United States", Revel wrote. "It can only unfold there, and it has started to do so. It will spread to the rest of the world only if it succeeds in North America."
...his defence of freedom and human rights as absolutes brought him head-to-head with the emerging Marxist left. In The Totalitarian Temptation (1976) and How Democracies Perish (1983), Revel noted that western capitalism, which carried with it an unprecedented degree of wealth and freedom, was rejected by"progressives" as odious, while communism, which produced only misery and tyranny, was regarded as attractive.
The communist danger, as he saw it, was as much moral as military. Democrats, especially on the left, no longer believed in their own values, and even adopted the mental reflexes of totalitarianism (character assassination, doublethink, wilful disregard for facts, and propaganda). Revel deplored what he regarded as an intellectual surrender, and concluded that the west was hopeless at exploiting its own strengths. Democracies, he feared, were bent more on rushing to their own enemy's rescue than on self-preservation: in the end the law of political evolution might lead to the"survival of the least fit"...
Revel never argued that communism could not be vanquished. He said it was irreversible only insofar as it could not be reformed. Ever since Without Marx or Jesus he had always argued that the Soviet Union was an unmitigated disaster. As he wrote in The Totalitarian Temptation:"The only way to improve communism is to remove it."
The purpose of How Democracies Perish was to urge the west to stand up for its own values. The book sought to show that communist totalitarianism was beyond redemption and should not be placated, and that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics owed its continued survival to its repressive apparatus and the complacent help of democracies.
In Democracy Against Itself (1992) Revel lambasts the idea – fashionable at the time – that communism had always been headed for the dustbin of history and that alarm had been misplaced: "It is a little bit as if someone said: 'You can see there was no reason to be worried in 1805 about Napoleon because in 1815 he was in St Helena.' The whole point is that he ended up there as a result of actions by leaders and peoples, not because in 1805 Napoleon was not dangerous or was bound to go out."
...To the very end, Revel remained true to the doctrine that gives his whole work strength and coherence: classical liberalism, i.e. a belief in individual rights and markets underpinned by the rule of law.
...Revel was always uncomfortable with the conservative label that was attached to him from the late 1970s. Many of the libertarian values he had always championed had indeed migrated to the intellectual right. But he was never close to the Gaullists, whom he knew to be worshippers of the state. Revel’s natural political home was the shrinking space in the centre, where France’s liberal misfits from both the right and the left tend to converge.
The 20th-century thinker Revel was closest to was George Orwell – who also blamed his contemporaries for ignoring the mortality of democracy and for siding with its Nazi and communist enemies....
Revel’s most Orwellian work – and perhaps his most profound – was The Flight from Truth (1988; one may find the French title more telling: La Connaissance inutile). The book dissects with clinical precision the flexibility of the human mind, its ability to sift information to suit our prejudices:
"The tragedy of our societies is not that we lack the data we need to make informed choices, but that we choose to ignore them. It is true that technology and science are thriving, and we have learned to think rationally on specific projects, like building planes or setting up unit-trust funds. But outside our speciality, we are as prone to superstition and illogical thinking as Neolithic men."
Revel, who has researched the subject thoroughly, traces a catalogue of fallacies peddled from America to Zimbabwe by"opinion makers" who are in fact slaves to humanity’s primeval preference for mental comfort over knowledge. The main point of Flight from Truth, however, is not that humans are unredeemable liars. On the contrary, just like Orwell, Revel exhorts us to make use of our capacity to take in reality and see what is in front of our noses. "This is important to democratic civilisation, because freedom thrives as much on truth and honesty as tyranny does on lying and cheating."
...Although Revel was largely misunderstood by the intelligentsia, his books were indeed huge successes. He was arguably the most powerful and influential of all 20th-century anti-totalitarian writers. Liberty has lost an irreplaceable champion.
David T. Beito
In an article for HNN, L and P blogger Keith Halderman explores Louis Armstrong's pro-liberty views on Marijuana:
Armstrong maintained marijuana to be a thousand times better than whiskey and that it relaxed him while also keeping him clear headed. He pointed out that, though he smoked marijuana, during the entire forty-five years he had been blowing trumpet he had never let his public down, claiming that they had a reverence for each other.
From my reading so far, opponents of Bush's"unitary executive" doctrine seem to have the better constitutional argument. But if he turns out to be right, then it only goes to show you what's wrong with the Constitution. As Spooner said, either it authorized the government we have or it was powerless to prevent it. In either case, who needs it?
On the subject of the"unitary executive," and federal power in general under George II, see the new Cato Institute publication "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush," by my old friends and former colleagues Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch. From the executive summary:
Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includesAlso, see this Boston Globe article by Charlie Savage. It begins:
* a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech -- and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;
* a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;
* a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as"enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror -- in other words, perhaps forever; and
* a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.
President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers.
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. . . .
Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty"to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to"execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.
The president's strategy has been pointed out about by several commentators (see the article linked above). In five and a half years he has vetoed no bills. Yet he claims the power to ignore any and all provisions of bills passed by Congress, thus giving himself, de facto, the line-item veto, but without an opportunity for Congress to override it. In several cases he has negotiated compromises in a bill in order win passage, only to say later in a"signing letter" that he has no intention of enforcing those sections. Members of his own party have complained about this treachery. According to Bruce Fein, a conservative constitutional scholar with integrity,"This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn't doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power."
Cross-posted at Free Association.
David T. Beito
"Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there [Iraq] began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel."
He was also Kennedy's ambassador to India in the early 1960s. While there, Galbraith gave a series of speeches on economic development in which he hailed the role of government planning as opposed to economic freedom. In one speech, Galbraith stated,"The market cannot reach forward to take great strides when these are called for. . . . To trust to the market is to take an unacceptable risk that nothing, or too little, will happen." As is well known, the Indian government did not take the"risk" of relying on the market but, instead, stuck with its system of detailed controls over every industry. As is also well known, nothing, or too little, happened. India was mired in poverty which only began to lift after some decontrol started in 1991.Where Galbraith says"the market" substitute"the ingenuity of free individuals." So, Galbraith is one of the people responsible for untold death, starvation, and misery -- and not just in India. Not bad for an arrogant elitist (and a collectivist moralizer masquerading as an economic"scientist") who probably never got his hands dirty.
Cross-posted at Free Association.
Cross-posted at Free Association.
Since his death last January, Fairfax County officials have intimidated the dead man's friends and family (likely in anticipation of the family's lawsuit); refused to name, discipline, or prosecute the officer who pulled the trigger; and generally frustrated the Culosi family's attempts to hold the appropriate people accountable for the shooting.
Police excess seems to thrive in the Virginia suburbs. In June of 2004, police in tiny Manassas Park staged a massive SWAT raid on a local tavern, conveniently under the guise of an alcohol inspection, which precluded the need for a search warrant. They found nothing, but they've since continued to intimidate and harrass the bar's owner.
And in Alexandria, just down the road from me, an off-duty police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager whom he suspected of walking out on a $20 tab at IHOP. There too, police and city officials have been less than forthcoming and cooperative about providing details of the incident.
Libertarians should have learned by now to be a little suspicious when politicians offer to solve our problems with the use of minefields and secret police. Especially when it’s the same politicians who created the problems in the first place.I highly recommend that everyone read the whole thing.
We laugh at the stupidity of our ancestors, who sincerely believed that Irish were all lazy drunks, Jews had low IQs, Chinese could not be doctors, etc. We now know that Irish are very productive drunks, Jews have inherently high IQs (the fact that their mothers make them study hard can’t have anything to do with it, of course), and only Chinese or Indians can be doctors or scientists (math courses are too much work for white students). However, as with any other area of life, these things are more accurately discovered by market processes rather than by a large secret police bureaucracy.
There are two legitimate worries about immigration. One is that the Mexican culture will produce millions who will vote for more government. This is a little funny, because it wasn’t illegal immigrants who voted us into socialism; it was our own English-speaking great-grandfathers who voted for FDR. Mexicans don’t even control their OWN country’s policies; Mexican (or any Third World nation’s) politics is always dominated by the faction that gets the most US foreign aid.
John Kenneth Galbraith, who died Saturday aged 97.
Galbraith was noted for his wit and sagacity (click on image). Here is another of his quips:"If all else fails, immortality can always be achieved by a spectacular mistake."
Although Galbraith's economics left a lot to be desired (to put it mildly), he wrote very well. If only more libertarian economists had Galbraith's eloquence and wit. Two notable examples of good style and good economics are Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom and David Ramsay Steele's From Marx to Mises. Read and enjoy.
David T. Beito
T.R.M. Howard (pictured fourth from the left during the Emmett Till trial) died thirty years ago on this date. He made his mark whether it was in business, voluntary mutual aid, or politics. He rose from poverty to become one of the wealthiest blacks in Mississippi. His investments included an insurance company, home construction firm, cotton plantation, and small zoo. His hospital in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi gave low-cost health care to thousands of poor blacks.
During the early 1950s, he led the largest civil rights/pro-self help civil rights organization in Mississippi. He was a mentor to Medgar Evers and played prominent role in the investigation of the kidnapping and murder of Emmett Till. He was also president of the National Medical Association, the black counterpart of the AMA.
Howard was born in the town of Murray, Kentucky. His parents were tobacco twisters and his mother was a cook for Will Mason, a prominent local white doctor and member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA). Mason took note of the boy’s work habits, talent, ambition, and charm. He put him to work in his hospital and eventually paid for much of his medical education. Howard later showed his gratitude by adding Mason as one of his middle names.
While attending medical school at Loma Linda University in Los Angeles, he was a regular columnist for the main black newspaper, the California Eagle. His columns promoted black business, self-help, and attacked efforts to impose segregation in the city. Howard was always unpredictable. Despite his SDA roots, he promoted the legalization of prostitution.
In 1942, Several years after getting his medical degree at Loma Linda University, Howard took over as the first chief surgeon at the hospital of the Knights and Daughters of Tabor, a fraternal organization, in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. While there, he founded an insurance company, restaurant, hospital, home construction firm, and a large farm where he raised cattle, quail, hunting dogs, and cotton. He also built a small zoo and a park as well as the first swimming pool for blacks in Mississippi. In 1947, he broke with the Knights and Daughters, organized the rival United Order of Friendship, and opened the Friendship Clinic.
Howard rose to prominence as a civil rights leader after founding the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in 1951. His compatriots in the League included Medgar Evers, who Howard had hired as an agent for his Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. The RCNL mounted a successful boycott against service stations that denied restrooms to blacks and distributed twenty thousand bumper stickers with the slogan,"Don't Buy Gas Where You Can't Use the Restroom."
The RCNL organized yearly rallies in Mound Bayou for civil rights. Sometimes as many as ten thousand attended including such future activists as Fannie Lou Hamer. Some of the speakers included Rep. Charles Diggs of Michigan and NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall. One of the entertainers was Mahalia Jackson.
In 1954, Howard hatched a plan to fight a credit squeeze by the White Citizens Councils against civil rights activists in Mississippi. At his suggestion, the NAACP under Roy Wilkins encouraged businesses, churches, and voluntary associations to transfer their accounts to the black-owned Tri-State Bank of Memphis. The funds were made available for loans to victims of the squeeze.
Howard moved into the national limelight as never before after the murder of Emmett Till in August 1955 and the trial of his killers, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant in September. He was heavily involved in the search for evidence and gave over his home to be a “black command center” for witnesses and journalists. Visitors noticed the high level of security, including armed guards and a plethora of weapons. He also evaded Mississippi’s discriminatory gun control laws by hiding a pistol in a secret compartment of his car. Mamie Bradley (Emmett’s mother) stayed at his home when she came to testify as did Charles Diggs. Like many black journalists and political leaders, Howard alleged that more than two people took part in the crime.
After an all-white jury acquitted Milam and Bryant, Howard gave dozens of speeches around the country on the Till killing and other violence in Mississippi, typically to crowds of several thousand. One of them was to an overflow crowd on November 27 in Montgomery, Alabama, at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. His host for the event was Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks was in the audience. Many years later, she singled out Howard’s appearance as the “first mass meeting that we had in Montgomery” following Till’s death. Only four days after his speech, Parks made history by refusing to give her seat on a city bus to a white man in violation of a segregation ordinance.
In the final months of 1955, Howard and his family were increasingly subjected to death threats and economic pressure. He sold most of his property and moved permanently in Chicago, Illinois. His national reputation as a civil rights leader still seemed secure. He also had a highly visible public dispute with J. Edgar Hoover who he accused of slowness to find the killers of blacks in the South. In early 1956, the Chicago Defender gave Howard the top spot on its annual national honor role. He served for one year as president of the National Medical Association, the black counterpart of the AMA. Howard also became medical director of S.B. Fuller Products Company. Samuel B. Fuller was probably the richest black man in the country.
In 1958, Howard ran for Congress as a Republican against the powerful incumbent black Democrat, Rep. William Levi Dawson, a close ally of Mayor Richard J. Daley. Although he received much favorable media publicity, and support from leading black opponents of the Daley machine, Dawson overwhelmed him at the polls.
During his years in Chicago, Howard attention increasingly focused on big game hunting, and made several trips to Africa for this purpose. His Chicago mansion included a “safari room” filled with trophies that was often made available for public tours. His New Year’s parties, co-hosted by his wife Helen Howard, were a regular stop for the Chicago’s black social set. He also became well-known as a leading abortion provider and was arrested in 1964 and 1965 but never convicted. Howard regarded this work as complementary to his earlier civil rights activism.
In 1972, Howard founded the multimillion dollar Friendship Medical Center on the South Side, the largest privately owned black clinic in Chicago. The staff of about one hundred and sixty included twenty-seven doctors in such fields as pediatrics, dental care, a pharmacy, ear, nose, and throat, and psychological and drug counseling. He died in Chicago after many years of deteriorating health.
Photo : Picture taken in 1955. Left to Right: Two witnesses at the trial on the murder of Emmett Till, Mamie Till Mobley (Till's mother), T.R.M. Howard, Rep. Charles Diggs of Michigan, Amanda Bradley (trial witness). Credit: Press-Scimitar Collection, Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries.
Also, Tim Lynch and I have a new Cato study called "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush."