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Why Free Speech on Campus Is Under Attack: Blame Marcuse – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Why Free Speech on Campus Is Under Attack: Blame Marcuse – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey A. Tucker
July 27, 2017
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This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education on April 22, 2017.

It’s become routine. An outside lecturer like Charles Murray or FEE’s own Lawrence Reed is invited to lecture on campus, just to give a different perspective than students might be hearing in the classroom. It seems like the way academia is supposed to work: many ideas are presented as a contribution to a rich education and the student is given the tools to make up his or her own mind.

But instead of a fair hearing, the invited lecturer is met with protests and gets shouted down. Aggressive and belligerent students accuse the speaker of every manner of evil. It’s not even about providing an intellectual challenge. No one minds that. The protesters want to stop the speaker from saying anything. They intimidate, threaten, scream, shout, and drive the guest from campus. The victors claim that the campus has been made safe again.

Outsiders look at the attacks on visiting lecturers on campus and wonder why. What could be the harm in hearing an alternative point of view? Isn’t that the point of a university, and a higher education generally? Aren’t students supposed to be trusted with discernment enough to be exposed to a broad range of ideas?

None of it makes much sense, unless you understand a bizarre ideology that has exercised a massive influence in academia since the rise of the New Left in the late 1960s. In the old days, people associated the Left with an ethos akin to the ACLU today: the right to speak, publish, and associate. The turn that took place with the New Left actually flipped whatever remaining attachment that the Left had with freedom.

Blinded by Ideology

There was one major influence here: Herbert Marcuse, the father of the New Left and perhaps the most influential Marxist of the last half century, and his most famous essay from 1965: Repressive Toleration. It is here that you find the template for an upside-down view of freedom held by so many students today. In this essay, Marcuse explains that free speech and toleration are illusions so long as society has yet to conform to the Marxian ideal. So long as that is true, in fact, free speech must be suppressed and toleration itself must not be tolerated.

In some ways, this essay is a blueprint not only for an oppressive campus life dominated by left-wing hegemony; it also offers a rationale for the totalitarian state itself. But in order to understand where he is coming from, and why those under his influence can be so controlling and even terrifying toward basic standards of civility, you need to know the background of his thought.

Marcuse was born in 1898, one year before F.A. Hayek, whose life and ideas serve as a foil for the Frankfurt School that Marcuse represented. And like Mises, Marcuse was driven out of of his home by the Nazis and spent time in Geneva before coming to the United States as an emigre. Unlike Hayek and Mises, Marcuse was a dedicated Marxist, and a main influence in the extension of Marxist economic theory to cover a broader range of philosophical topics.

Both Marx and Marcuse were successors in the long tradition of left-Hegelian thought that opposed every aspect of the rise of laissez-faire commercial life in the 19th century. The Hegelian view was that what we call freedom for average people was a social mask for a meta-narrative of history that was grim and dreadful. Impersonal forces in history were at work creating struggles, clashes, and wars between large-scale social aggregates. The free market (and freedom generally) might look like harmony but it is an illusion to cover a terrible exploitation that the workers and peasants might not directly perceive but could be discerned by enlightened intellectuals.

The goal of history, in this view, is to realize some grand conclusive stage in which the social order ceases to be a messy place of marginal improvements in living standards and instead resembles some utopia as defined by intellectuals. The trick for this point of view is finding the necessary path from here to there.

Recall the strange way in which Marx’s view that the state must “wither away” became an ideological cover for the realization of the total state itself. It’s all about the transition. Yes, Marx said, the state will go away forever, but only once the new socialist man had been created and the reactionary forces keeping scientific socialism at bay were entirely expropriated (or exterminated).

Suppress Freedom to Gain It

As a dedicated Marxist (and left-Hegelian generally), Marcuse believed that the same was true for other bourgeois institutions like free speech, free press, and toleration. Yes, he shared the goal that we need all those things. “Tolerance is an end in itself,” he says with some promise that he could make some sense. “The elimination of violence, and the reduction of suppression to the extent required for protecting man and animals from cruelty and aggression are preconditions for the creation of a humane society.”

Right on! And yet, he says, “Such a society does not yet exist; progress toward it is perhaps more than before arrested by violence and suppression on a global scale.” Every exercise of freedom as it exists is loaded and dominated by existing elites, who skew the debate to favor their position. It’s not a level playing field because social inequities are so prevalent as to be decisive in all outcomes.

As with Marx, in other words, we’ve got a problem in the transition. The masses of people are being deluded by anti-Marxian practices by governments and power elites, practices which have unleashed every manner of horror: neo-colonial massacres, violence and suppression, racist exploitation, police state oppression, and the domination of society by forces of power.

You know the litany of evils, of course. But the more you read, the more you realize that the real problem according to Marcuse comes down to one word: capitalism. So long as that survives, the masses will be lacking in proper discernment to see and know what is true. In this case, toleration will only provide opportunities for the perpetuation of evil. “Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.”

If we allow free speech and give a platform to non-Marxist ideas, the great Hegelian moment when we reach the end of history will continue to elude us.

For this reason, we need to adopt full-scale repression – at least until the end of history arrives. As Marcuse wrote:

They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior – thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives.

And to the degree to which freedom of thought involves the struggle against inhumanity, restoration of such freedom would also imply intolerance toward scientific research in the interest of deadly ‘deterrents’, of abnormal human endurance under inhuman conditions, etc.

Wait just a minute here. Did you catch that? Marcuse says that if you oppose policies like social security or Obamacare, you should be denied the freedom of speech and assembly. You should be shut up and beat up. The path toward true freedom is through massive real-world oppression. If you have the wrong views, you have no rights.

The entire essay is born of frustration that the Marxists have not yet won, that they continue to have to make a case for their perspective in the face of tremendous opposition. Given that he and his friends are part of a priesthood of truth, shouldn’t they just be declared the winners and contrary views suppressed?

In other words, it is possible to define the direction in which prevailing institutions, policies, opinions would have to be changed in order to improve the chance of a peace which is not identical with cold war and a little hot war, and a satisfaction of needs which does not feed on poverty, oppression, and exploitation. Consequently, it is also possible to identify policies, opinions, movements which would promote this chance, and those which would do the opposite. Suppression of the regressive ones is a prerequisite for the strengthening of the progressive ones.

What about freedom and stuff? We’ll get there, but first all opponents of how Marcuse defined freedom must be eliminated. In other words, this is not real freedom. It is a big excuse for suppression, despotism, and the total state.

Or as Marcuse said with characteristic bluntness, we must push the “cancellation of the liberal creed of free and equal discussion.” We must, he said, be “militantly intolerant.”

Who Rules?

Now, the question is: who should be in charge of deciding “the distinction between liberating and repressive, human and inhuman teachings and practices.” The answer is readily at hand: properly enlightened intellectuals like Marcuse and his friends, who must be put in charge of the regime managing the transition. As he puts it, a decider should be “in the maturity of his faculties as a human being.”

It is they who should speak and be charged with putting down contrary views. To Marcuse, it is no different from how society tries to control juvenile delinquents. They don’t have rights and freedoms. Neither should unenlightened adults persist in the failure to be Marxists like him.

Here we have a classic demonstration of the power of dogma. It can distort the world around you to the point that black becomes white, up is down, and slavery is freedom.

It reminds me of the time that Leon Trotsky visited the New York subway and noticed that there were machines dispensing gum. He concluded that gum was a capitalist plot to keep the jaws of the workers moving so that they would not perceive their status as slaves having their surplus value stolen by capitalist exploiters.

And yet: sometimes gum is just gum.

So you wonder: where are these attacks on free speech coming from? They are coming from the academy where this stuff is taught to students of sociology, politics, and literature, from day one. It doesn’t mean that people are literally reading Marcuse or even that their professors have done so. Philosophy works this way. Bad ideas are like termites: you can’t entirely see them, and suddenly the whole house falls in.

Astute readers will notice a strange parallel between the ideas of Marcuse and those of the alt-right that imagines that violating the rights of people who disagree is the way to make progress toward real freedom. The model for the alt-right is the world of Pinochet: dissidents must be thrown out of helicopters.

Indeed, there is not much substantial difference between the Nazi politics of Carl Schmitt and the Marxist politics of Herbert Marcuse. They both exist within the same Hegelian ideological bubble, operating as mirror images of each other. One gives rise to the other in alternating sequences of action and reaction. Two sides of the same coin.

Each wants to suppress the other, which is why the complaints of alt-rightists are so disingenuous. They complain about having their free-speech rights violated, but they aspire to do exactly the same to their own enemies.

And, incidentally, censorship is like socialism: it works in theory but not in practice. Suppressing ideas subsidizes the demand for the very idea being put down. You can’t control the human mind by controlling speech alone.

What about Real Freedom?

As you read through this material, the question keeps coming back to you. What about actual freedom right now? What about actual speech right now? Not freedom and speech toward a specific goal, a spelled-out end of history scenario, but rather just real freedom and speech, right now. And what about commercial freedom itself, which has done more to improve the lives of regular people more than any imagined end-state of history as cobbled together by intellectual elites.

Exploring this left and right Hegelian literature makes you appreciate the absolute genius of the old liberal creed, and the handful of great intellectuals who upheld it through the 20th century against these dangerous and illiberal ideologies. Only in this literature will you discover the great truth that freedom right now, right where we are in this stage of history, is the only social goal truly worth fighting for.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Are We Fighting Terrorism, Or Creating More Terrorism? – Article by Ron Paul

Are We Fighting Terrorism, Or Creating More Terrorism? – Article by Ron Paul

Ron Paul
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When we think about terrorism, we most often think about the horrors of a Manchester-like attack, where a radicalized suicide bomber went into a concert hall and killed dozens of innocent civilians. It was an inexcusable act of savagery, and it certainly did terrorize the population.

What is less considered are attacks that leave far more civilians dead, happen nearly daily instead of rarely, and produce a constant feeling of terror and dread. The victims are the civilians on the receiving end of US and allied bombs in places like Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.

Last week alone, US and “coalition” attacks on Syria left more than 200 civilians dead and many hundreds more injured. In fact, even though US intervention in Syria was supposed to protect the population from government attacks, US-led air strikes have killed more civilians over the past month than air strikes of the Assad government. That is like a doctor killing his patient to save him.

Do we really believe we are fighting terrorism by terrorizing innocent civilians overseas? How long until we accept that “collateral damage” is just another word for “murder”?

The one so-called success of the recent G7 summit in Sicily was a general agreement to join together to “fight terrorism.” Have we not been in a “war on terrorism” for the past 16 years? What this really means is more surveillance of innocent civilians, a crackdown on free speech and the Internet, and many more bombs dropped overseas. Will doing more of what we have been doing do the trick? Hardly! After 16 years fighting terrorism, it is even worse than before we started. This can hardly be considered success.

They claim that more government surveillance will keep us safe. But the UK is already the most intrusive surveillance state in the western world. The Manchester bomber was surely on the radar screen. According to press reports, he was known to the British intelligence services, he had traveled and possibly trained in bomb-making in Libya and Syria, his family members warned the authorities that he was dangerous, and he even flew terrorist flags over his house. What more did he need to do to signal that he may be a problem? Yet somehow even in Orwellian UK, the authorities missed all the clues.

But it is even worse than that. The British government actually granted permission for its citizens of Libyan background to travel to Libya and fight alongside al-Qaeda to overthrow Gaddafi. After months of battle and indoctrination, it then welcomed these radicalized citizens back to the UK. And we are supposed to be surprised and shocked that they attack?

The real problem is that both Washington and London are more interested in regime change overseas than any blowback that might come to the rest of us back home. They just do not care about the price we pay for their foreign-policy actions. No grand announcement of new resolve to “fight terrorism” can be successful unless we understand what really causes terrorism. They do not hate us because we are rich and free. They hate us because we are over there, bombing them.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Disagreement Is a Bad Reason to Unfriend – Article by Sarah Skwire

Disagreement Is a Bad Reason to Unfriend – Article by Sarah Skwire

The New Renaissance HatSarah Skwire
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I have an interesting meeting next week. A young woman in my community is working very hard on a set of policy suggestions for environmental measures, and she wants a libertarian perspective on the ideas she has drawn up. So we’re going to get together over coffee and talk about her plan and about what I think libertarians might think of it.

But I don’t want to write about her plan today.

I want to write about her invitation to talk about it.

I want to write about it because I think it’s an enormously important counterpoint to something that I see more of every day on my Facebook feed, in the media, and in the small daily interactions of people around me.

That’s the obstinate insistence that people who disagree cannot be friends or colleagues—that they cannot even be reasonably expected to communicate with one another.

Some disagreements, we are told, are just so profound, so deeply seated, so indicative of the other person’s moral turpitude that no reaching over the division is possible.

Shunning? Really?

That may be true, in some cases. Cultures all over the world have long had methods for shunning those whose behavior was so counter to cultural norms that they were viewed as potentially destructive threats to the culture’s continuation. I’m not saying that such threats don’t ever exist.

But in the last little while, I’ve seen claims that anyone who voted for Trump should be “cut off” from communication with “civilized society.” I’ve heard people argue that voting against the continuation of the ACA reveals people to be morally bereft and outside the bonds of normal human interaction. I’ve heard college students and faculty argue not that they should not have to attend or listen to speakers with whom they disagree, but that no one else should be allowed to do so.

That’s a lot of people to vote off the island.

Excluding Others Isn’t Brave

Worse than the sheer numbers involved, though, and even worse than the ever-expanding list of offenses that are considered dire enough to excise whole swathes of people from civil discourse, is the insistence that all of this exclusion is being done because the excluders are brave.

The rhetoric is familiar. “Stand up” against this offense. “Speak out” against that one. “Refuse to tolerate” X. “Give no quarter and make no compromises” with Y. “Shut down” the language of the other side. “Refuse to even entertain” opposing views. “Give no platform” to this person.

I think there’s bravery in resistance to wrongs. I don’t think there’s anything brave about shutting down speech and debate and refusing to interact with people with opposing views.

I think it’s much braver, and much harder, to look for ways to cross those barriers, to find the humanity in the people with whom you disagree most strongly, and to work to solve the problems that plague us rather than retreating to separate camps.

I think it is a brave thing to contact someone with whom you disagree politically and say “Let’s have coffee and talk about stuff. I want to understand how you see this problem.”

And I think we all ought to do it more often.

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Why Iceland Doesn’t Have an Alt-Right Problem – Article by Camilo Gómez

Why Iceland Doesn’t Have an Alt-Right Problem – Article by Camilo Gómez

The New Renaissance HatCamilo Gómez
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With the recent rise to prominence of right-wing populist parties across Europe, it’s refreshing that Iceland has remained largely immune to such nationalistic rhetoric. On the continent, figures like Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are capitalizing on what political scientists are calling a third wave of European populism that began after the international financial crisis of 2008. These parties are characterized by their anti-immigrant, and specifically, anti-Muslim sentiments. They fashion themselves the “protectors” of their homelands’ traditional culture against cosmopolitan globalism.

Yet, tiny Iceland has resisted this dirty brand of politics because of the rise of social movements that challenged the power structure of the Icelandic political establishment after the financial crisis of 2008. Unlike in other European countries, these social movements transformed themselves into a political movements, filling the vacuum of traditional center-right and center-left political parties, while also preventing far-right political projects from succeeding.

For starters, Iceland is a relatively young country that only became independent in 1944. It is a parliamentary democracy, based on coalitions because the Althing (parliament) has 63 members but a single party rarely has a clear majority. Unlike other Nordic countries, Iceland has been governed by the right for most of its history, either from the liberal conservative Independence Party or the center-right agrarian Progressive Party.

This changed after the international financial crisis of 2008, which led all three Icelandic commercial banks to default. The crisis generated massive anger as Icelanders didn’t know what was going to happen with their savings. This led to massive protests that culminated in the resignation of the Prime Minister who was a member of the Independence Party.  Consequently, in April 2009, a left-wing coalition by the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement formed a government together for the first time in the country’s history.

This grassroots activism led to the appearance of outsider political projects like the now defunct Best Party, which started as political satire but ended with its leader Jón Gnarr winning the mayoral election in Reykjavík in 2010. More importantly, grassroots activism was further encouraged by the Panama Papers, which revealed that the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson of the Progressive Party and his wife, had an undisclosed account in an offshore tax haven. The ensuing protests became the largest in Iceland’s history, and made the Prime Minister resign. This led the way for the Pirate Party — a loose collection of anarchists, hackers and libertarians — to rise in prominence. Because of the Pirates, the national discussion shifted to a more socially tolerant narrative of a society willing to be open to the world.

Thus, Iceland’s 2016 elections presented very different options from the relatively traditional Independence Party and Progressive Party or the Social Democratic Alliance and Left-Green Movement. In addition to the Pirate Party,  voters could also choose from the Bright Party, an eclectic socially liberal party, and the Reform Party, a new liberal party formed by defectors of the Independence Party. The elections led to a center-right coalition between the Independence Party, the Reform Party and the Bright Party.

Rather than blaming immigrants for their problems, Icelanders confronted the political class and created new parties that didn’t resemble the wave of far-right populism. Now even the government realizes that Iceland needs immigrants, skilled and unskilled, to fulfill the demand in different aspects of the Icelandic economy. Contrary to other countries in Europe, and despite its size, Iceland had been willing to receive refugees, and the number of immigrants in Iceland keeps growing year by year. In times of demagoguery, Iceland remains friendly to foreigners. One can only hope that the world learn from this small country that foreigners bring prosperity.

Camilo Gómez is a blogger at The Mitrailleuse and the host of Late Night Anarchy podcast. He can be found in Twitter at @camilomgn. He is a Young Voices Advocate.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

Cultural Appropriation Is Love – Article by T.J. Brown

Cultural Appropriation Is Love – Article by T.J. Brown

The New Renaissance HatT.J. Brown
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I’ve never been able to get into the Halloween spirit. Maybe that’s because most of my childhood’s trick-or-treating consisted of candy corn. But as I’ve grown, I’ve gained a new appreciation for this holiday. It’s an exhibition and embrace of cultural diversity through costumes and tog.

Honoring the Other  

When I see a beautiful Caucasian woman dressing up as a Salsa Dancer, or a group of Asian college students dressed as the Jackson Five, it resonates with me in a very positive way. The Salsa Dancer dressed as such because she sees the beauty of the culture, attire, and people that are associated. She adores this culture so much that she’s willing to spend her own money to embody it for a single night. The Asian kids dressing up as the Jackson Five clearly have not only knowledge of the legendary African-American pop sensation, but have also been impacted by the cultural talents they delivered to the market.

This is why I see Cultural Appropriation as a gesture of love within humanity. It’s a refreshing deviation from conventional US ethnocentric patriotism and isolation. I’m thrilled to see people dressing up as diverse identities from around the globe, and not just wearing American Flag trucker hats and Confederate bikinis.

As our culture becomes more and more politically correct and censorious of “offensive” displays of cultural mimicry, diversity has become less about expressions of humanistic cooperation, and more about competitive oppression.

In PC parlance, that Salsa Dancer costume is actually insensitive to the economic suffering of Hispanic women who had to subject themselves to patriarchal theater. That Jackson Five getup ignores the capitalist exploitation by the music industry of black artists during the American Civil Rights movement. This is the narrative you will commonly hear pushed on many progressive university campuses and blog sites.

Some find this to be annoying, but I’d actually go as far as to call it outright insulting and abusive. Who are you to tell someone that they aren’t allowed to express their love for another culture because you arbitrarily hold exclusive claim to it? Who are you to micromanage identity and dictate what types of multiculturalism is tolerable and intolerable?

In the attempt made by progressives to socially abolish what they rule as problematic cultural appropriation, the actual effect is to make harmonious ethnic relations less likely to occur.

That Which Separates Us

Once a white man dressing up as an Arabian Sheik or a black man dressing up as an Irish bagpiper was met with excitement and interest. Now there exists a mob to ridicule them into hiding for being racist bigots. Basically they are saying to these men, “You are different and should stick to your own kind.”

How is that helpful to advancing equality or association? Now these two men are intellectually isolated, likely fostering resentment for diversity. This is dangerous for everyone, especially cultural minorities.

The far left and the Alt-Right have become enablers of each other. While the Alt-Right shames whites for abandoning their heritage and culture and demands that non-whites appropriate European culture, the far left shames whites (primarily) for embracing and adopting cultural differences and contrasts and demands they NOT appropriate.

Neither side wants to break down polarities; neither side wants a free and natural marketplace of voluntary inclusivity and association. I oppose both these factions, which is why I endorse more cultural appropriation not only on Halloween, but every day.

A world without cultural appropriation is a world without learning, emulation, aspiration, celebration, and progress. It is a frozen and dull world of isolation and insularity.

You don’t have to be an assimilative glob of clay to be properly molded by the right or a self-hating ally of the left. Culture is spontaneous, and your expression of it should be as well. So to the white girls, wear box braids if you want. To the black girls, don’t let haters stop you from rocking that blonde relaxer. Dress up as cowboys and Indians, black and white celebrities.

If you’re trans and want to dress as a cis person or visa-versa, do it. Your life is not present to be ordered and manipulated by central planners, governments, fascists, or social justice warriors. Your life is present to pursue your own self-interests and to find what makes you happy. Accusations of degeneracy or racism be damned.

tj-brown-01-edited

TJ Brown

Taleed J. Brown is a content intern at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and hosts the popular YouTube channel “That Guy T“.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

If the Word “Liberal” Is Up for Grabs, Can We Have It Back? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

If the Word “Liberal” Is Up for Grabs, Can We Have It Back? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey Tucker
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A spectacular column in The New York Times by novelist Lionel Shriver makes the point. The new literary and academic establishment in the humanities has become so illiberal, particularly in its preposterous condemnation of “cultural appropriation,” that even the word liberal itself is falling out of fashion.

It’s so bad that Shriver was denounced and condemned for arguing that it is just fine for novelists to write characters into their work that are not of the same cultural, racial, and demographic background of the writer. Not very controversial, right?

Explosion followed. Yes, that’s how bad it’s gotten out there. The literary habit that built civilization, the musical tactic that brought us the Nutcracker and Carmen, the technological tendency that build modernity from the Middle Ages to the present, the political rhetoric that ended slavery and emancipated women, the artistic strategy that has brought the world together in mutual understanding and in unprecedented ways, now stands condemned as the micro-aggression of cultural appropriation.

She writes:

How did the left in the West come to embrace restriction, censorship and the imposition of an orthodoxy at least as tyrannical as the anti-Communist, pro-Christian conformism I grew up with? Liberals have ominously relabeled themselves “progressives,” forsaking a noun that had its roots in “liber,” meaning free. To progress is merely to go forward, and you can go forward into a pit.

Protecting freedom of speech involves protecting the voices of people with whom you may violently disagree. In my youth, liberals would defend the right of neo-Nazis to march down Main Street. I cannot imagine anyone on the left making that case today.

It’s right. The people who stole the word liberal  – gradually circa 1900-1933 – seem to be in the process of tossing out the last modicum of respect for liberty they had even as recently as ten years ago. If you are considered a thief for showing appreciation for other cultures, learning from people unlike yourself, using art and literature to draw attention to certain human universals, there is really nothing left of liberty.

If these are your views, you really should relinquish the word liberal. And the truly great thing is that this is happening right now thus leaving it, perhaps, to be reappropriated by actual lovers of liberty.

Do Not Talk about Beyoncé’s Lemonade!

I experienced the intolerance for disruptive ideas earlier this year in the strangest way. Beyoncé’s Lemonade – a feature-length pop operetta about betrayal and forgiveness –  had just come out. I devoured it, was challenged by it, learned from it, and found themes within it that I was ready to write about: particularly the Hayekian themes I found in the work.

However, just as I started putting together my thoughts, the Internet filled up with dire warnings: if you are a white man, do not write about Beyoncé’s Lemonade!

I can’t write about Beyoncé’s Lemonade? Really? Why not? Because it is a story about the experience of black women in America, and it would be disrespectful to appropriate this experience and this art to serve your own private desire to interpret the work.

Others took a more moderate position: do not yet write about Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Give it a few days, a few weeks, a few months, so as to allow women of color to at least have the first chance to comment and write.

Now, I can’t say I was entirely intimidated to silence by this demand. However, I did hesitate, maybe briefly perceiving some plausibility to the claim. It makes some sense that the intended audience would become the dominant voice of interpretation. I’m ok with that, but would my adding my voice somehow prohibit this? I doubt it, seriously.

Still, I was thinking. So I let it go. The next day, I actually asked a “woman of color” who is a friend, and she said, “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I want to know what you as a white man have to say about this!” That was cool, but I felt the moment passing.

Did I really relish hurling myself into the meat grinder of leftist fanaticism, being condemned as a racist cultural appropriator because I dared to say something about Beyoncé’s Lemonade? Not much. It is always easier not to speak than to speak.

As I look back, this was a mistake on my part, but it does illustrate how illiberalism and dogmatic demands to keep your thoughts to yourself can have a chilling effect on public culture.

Who Is Against Freedom of Speech Today?

In the postwar period, the mantle of principle on the matter of free speech moved from left to right. Recall that William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale (1953) was essentially an argument against academic freedom. It said that leftists were invoking this principle to advocate for ideas (atheism and Keynesianism) that contradict the values of the donating alumni to Yale itself. It was due to this erudite but essentially illiberal treatise that the postwar right gained the impression of being “anti-intellectual.”

What a difference sixty years make. Today the organizations most passionately for academic freedom and freedom of speech are the Young Americans for Liberty, the Students for Liberty, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education – three organizations that, rightly or wrongly, are considered to be on the right side of the political debate. At this very time, the other side has developed a kind of allergy to the demand for free speech. Everyone is triggered by everyone else.

Around the same time, Leonard Read and his circle deeply regretted the loss of the term liberal. With some reservations and lingering doubts, they revived the term libertarian as a substitute. It was supposed to be a synonym. But IMHO, it’s not nearly as good because it lacks the history, the broadness of mind, the high aspiration for society as a whole.

The True Meaning of Liberal

There really is only one way forward. That is the way offered by the liberal tradition – a tradition variously and pragmatically sampled by the left and the right but not really believed in full by either. After all, if your ambition is to control society, you can’t really claim the mantle.

It’s a beautiful thing that the word itself seems to have been abandoned by all modern political players, who prefer other terms. Fine. Liberalism has the most brilliant heritage in every language. It means individual rights, freedom of expression and enterprise and association, suspicion of government, and a confidence that society can organize itself better on its own without any institution making and enforcing a central plan.

Liberalism built civilization. It makes sense that the word would be abandoned when the dominant players in politics today have every interest in tearing it down by circumscribing freedom. But therein lies an opportunity.

In 2015 I made a commitment to stop using the term liberal in a derogatory way. I think I’ll complete this year by committing to using it in a completely positive way. Will you join me? We might be the only self-described liberals in the United States, and, perhaps then, we can make a contribution to regaining the term’s true meaning.

Or we might just say, reappropriate it.

Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Nazis on Twitter? That’s What Blocking Is For – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Nazis on Twitter? That’s What Blocking Is For – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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I’ve followed the fascinating case of Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times’s deputy Washington editor, and his conflagration with the legions of Nazis on Twitter. After he tweeted an essay about the rise of fascism in the U.S. — an essay not unlike the one I wrote this time last year — he was dogpiled by a variety of crazy alt-right accounts, and bombarded by some deeply malicious messaging.

You wake in the morning and find 100 notifications from people calling you a tool of the Jews.It might have been new to him, but for most curious Internet users of a certain generation, this is nothing new. For Weisman, it came as a shock, and understandably. The tweets featured photoshopped images of Weisman being marched to the gas chambers, for example. They threatened him with vile anti-Semitic and hard-core racist rhetoric.

He knew that if he merely claimed that this happened, he would be met with incredulity by a mainstream audience. To make sure that people believed him, he spent the day retweeting the vile messages to his followers, as if to say: “this stuff really does exist.”

I know exactly what he means. After my first critical article on Trump last year, one in which I reported on an early campaign speech I watched, I was trolled hard too. You wake in the morning and find 100 notifications from people calling you a tool of the Jews, slamming you with racist cartoons, telling you that you have sold out the white race, and even calling for your death.

These are people who perhaps begin their trajectory with some harmless anti-PC racial banter, but it escalates to become a full-scale political ideology, one that eventually crowds out all concern for human rights and decency. What they have joined isn’t a real army with guns, but when you are targeted it is still emotionally draining and politically frightening to say the least.

It’s supposed to be. That’s why they do it. The point is to shake you up, and make you feel like you are being bombarded.

When I told people about it, they didn’t believe it, or didn’t want to believe it. I too ended up screenshotting and posting in private messages, just to make the point that these vile movements do indeed exist. Even then, people doubt, probably because the sheer aggressiveness of this crowd is rather new in public life, at least in the US.

Hatred, Left and Right

For most of my writing career, I’ve been called a corporate shill by the left, a puppet of the Kochtopus, an apologist for capitalist exploitation and frankenfood. None of the attacks from the left have matched the sheer vitriol of those from the supposed opposite side. These days, though I hold the same libertarian perspective I always have, I’m being denounced as a witting dupe of the rootless commercial class, a shill for the global banksters and usurers, a cuckservative (look it up), and probably a secret Jew myself.

Welcome to Twitter in 2016.

The world truly does seem to be dividing between authoritarians of the right and left, and the rest of us. At some point in last year, hundreds of bitter people left their 4chan caves and became Twitter mavens. It became the choice venue for the far right, which has developed its own internal signaling systems such as putting the signs ((( ))) around ostensibly “known Jews.” They use swastikas as avatars. They post Nazi-era caricatures of Jews. And the rhetoric is a revival of interwar hate that most people believe was vanquished from the earth with the defeat of the Nazis 70 years ago.

Not all the accounts are so blatant. Some prefer the dog-whistle approach in their own posting and merely retweet the more hard-core material. After a while, you can become very talented at spotting the members of this internet junta, and have it confirmed with only one or two degrees of separation from the more overt deniers and/or celebrators of the actual Holocaust (strange how deniers and celebrators hang out together).

Just as left socialism never seems to go away, no matter how many economic disasters it brings about, so it is with national socialism with a rightest tinge. In fact, it seems to be growing, both in Europe and the US, posing a serious challenge to those of us who consider ourselves classical liberals: hard opposition to the left and to the right. As I’ve written elsewhere, the world truly does seem to be dividing between authoritarians of the right and left, opposed consistently by a small but growing group of genuine liberals all over the world.

Terms of Use

Now, to be sure, Jonathan Weisman was exactly right to wonder why Twitter puts up with this stuff. As he points out, banning such accounts is not censorship; this is a private venue that can set its own rules, same as a restaurant or movie theater. And Twitter does indeed have rules against “hateful conduct” that threatens people based on religion and ethnicity, as well as a policy on harassment that prohibits targeting people and inciting others to do the same. There’s no question that these accounts are in violation.

Why doesn’t Twitter act? Well, it sometimes does. After the Weisman articles, Twitter banned some 30 or so accounts. What happened to them? It’s pretty easy: they can easily come back again with another user name. In this sense, Twitter is, by design, much easier to game than Google or Facebook, both of which have much stricter policies. Sockpuppeting is a way of life here.

How does a digital venue decide how strict to be on these matters? It is all about the value of the platform for users. Sometimes tighter is better and other times it is not. In the case of Twitter, a main contribution it makes to global culture is its openness to all. You can find and see and hear just about anything. You can curate your feed. You can include or exclude. Sure, that takes a bit of work, but it is more than worth it.

For Facebook and LinkedIn, matters are very different. Permitting hate, harassment, sex solicitation, porn, and so on, is a problem for the kind of culture they want to create for members. And so it is more carefully policed. Again, this is not censorship anymore than a restaurant that demands shoes is violating human rights. You have the human right to be a Nazi all you want on your own property, but you don’t have the right to do so on property that belongs to others.

What To Do?

As it turns out, the nasty junta of hate-spewing freaks is not an army after all.When this started happening to me, I was initially disoriented and, I admit, a bit shaken. But then it struck me that Twitter surely has permitted a way to deal with this. Sure enough, there is a little gear that allows you to select a pretty little option: block. With the block, that account can no longer contact you or post among your notifications. Quite simply, you stop hearing from them.

I spent about a month doing this to trolls. Oddly, it is very satisfying. Someone tags you in a hate-filled post. With one click, you can blast them out of your curated universe. Once I got the hang of it, it became a game. Instead of getting mad, you just get even. Well, not really. But it sort of feels like it.

You know what? It works. After blocking about 100 accounts over the course of the fall, the problem almost entirely vanished. As it turns out, the nasty junta of hate-spewing freaks is not an army after all. In the end, we might in fact be talking about a few hundred accounts. Maybe it is more. And maybe after this article, they will all be back.

It might not be possible to make them all go away, but there is a way to reduce the influx and almost eliminate the stress. That’s not to minimize the alarming rise of fascism in politics here and abroad, but only to say that we are wise to distinguish between reality and digital illusion.

Blocking Is Betting than Beatings

And this is a much better option than leaning hard on Twitter to do more enforcement of its own terms of use. As much as these people disgust me, I would actually prefer to live in a world in which even deranged Nazis have access to widely available communication channels. I won’t invoke the right of free speech here because that’s not what this is about.

I will, however, say a good word for openness to all – and I mean all – points of view, access to media by all the world’s people (this is a wonderful miracle), and, above all else, the right of individuals to exclude through blocking. This is the way the opinion market should work. This is how we curate our own intellectual lives.

What we absolutely do not need – which Europe has tried to do – are government controls on what types of opinions one is allowed to hold and what books one is allowed to read. If you want violent extremism to grow, this is a great path towards guaranteeing that it will. Shutting people up by force is not the solution. The block button is far more effective than any censor.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

 

Censorship Is an Unjustifiable Privilege – Article by Chris Marchese

Censorship Is an Unjustifiable Privilege – Article by Chris Marchese

The New Renaissance HatChris Marchese
******************************

Free Speech Is about the Power to Challenge the Status Quo

Free speech is the great equalizer in our society. It doesn’t matter about your race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, class — you get the point — the First Amendment protects your right to speak freely. Despite this, some student activists — perceiving unequal social conditions, including at institutions of higher education — are fighting for social change at the expense of free speech. The sad irony, however, is that free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted, which is why free speech must remain a right equally applicable to all.To understand why, consider Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s commencement speech at Wellesley College in 2015. In it, she said, “You, because of your beautiful Wellesley degree, have become privileged, no matter your background.” But, she added, “Sometimes you will need to push [this privilege] aside in order to see clearly,” because “privilege blinds” you to those who are different.

Students calling for speech restrictions are particularly blinded by their privilege, which leaves them unable to see the unjust privilege that restricting speech would further confer upon them. This is dangerous and counterproductive to their cause.

Restricting Speech Is an Unjust Privilege
First, to support restrictions on certain kinds of speech, activists must have (or at least project) unwavering confidence in both themselves and the system in which they are operating — the university in this case — to discern what’s offensive. Even if they see gray areas in expression, they are forced to present issues in absolutist terms if they are to have the perceived moral authority to police and punish those who offend.

Turning again to Adichie’s speech, we can see why this is wrong. As she said, “I knew from … the class privilege I had of growing up in an educated family, that it sometimes blinded me, that I was not always as alert to the nuances of people who were different from me.”

Sometimes, people are genuinely racist (though what’s considered racist varies widely from place to place) and their speech is identifiable as such. But what about the student who isn’t aware of the offense he or she may cause by wearing a sombrero at a party, which some consider cultural appropriation? How about the student who is aware but disagrees that it’s offensive? Should he or she be censored and punished based upon some activists’ standards of right and wrong? Different people have different experiences and different views. Because of this, nuance matters.

Second, while it can be tempting to argue that free speech maintains inequality because it protects offensive speech, this argument fails to distinguish between people and their views. That is, when you censor people — even for offensive speech — you are denying them equal access to, and protection of, the First Amendment and you are doing so from a position of privilege.  The right to free speech gives everyone an equal right to voice his or her opinions — but it does not mean that such opinions will win or even register in any given forum.

Restrictions on free speech, on the other hand, make both people and ideas unequal by subjugating them to someone else’s understanding of what’s right and therefore allowable. Indeed, to assume one’s views are so infallible as to warrant imposition on others and to assume there is no legitimate debate left to be had on certain topics — and the language used in discussing those topics — is a privilege that oppresses not only the hated racist, but the honest dissenter and everyone in between.

Lastly, some students claim that free speech is about power — that it enables and sustains privilege for some but not all. Let’s be clear: free speech is about power. It’s about having the power to challenge the status quo, question society’s deeply held beliefs, and call others to task. But free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted.

Understanding the Would-Be Censors
Of course words can have consequences. (If they couldn’t, nobody would bother speaking.) It would be hypocritical to argue that offensive speech will never cause harm, at least to feelings or interests, while also maintaining that speech is so vital it requires robust protection. One could also argue that the marketplace of ideas — like all markets — has negative externalities. The most evident, as campus activists assert, is that offensive speech is protected and those it’s directed at — typically thought to be minorities — are disproportionately burdened by it.

Moreover, restricting or punishing speech provides instant gratification. It’s an immediate and swift response to views one finds abhorrent. It gives the impression that justice has been served. For those who believe society is stacked against them, it’s a small beacon of hope. Restricting speech, then, isn’t seen as infringing upon someone else’s liberty, but rather righting a wrong. The emotional appeal is understandably strong.

But this is not right.

A Just Alternative
The best way to counter hateful, offensive speech is with more speech. Think of it this way: restricting speech treats the symptoms of bigotry by making its manifestations less visible. Conversely, more speech acts as a cure by attacking the underlying disease. The former method may seem effective in the short term, but it’s dangerous in the long run.

As FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff has argued, when offensive speech is banned, it drives those with potentially dangerous views (however determined) underground, making them harder to identify, while also potentially making them more extreme. It also gives a false sense of social progress. And who ultimately pays the price? The people the bans were meant to help, when it turns out society wasn’t as friendly as they believed.

Countering hateful speech with more speech is not seamless. It’s hard work, and it’s not instant. It doesn’t guarantee the flushing of all bigoted and hateful opinions from society, and it often works slowly. Nevertheless, it is the only method that is both just and that makes progress last. Engaging with people who express views different from one’s own moves beyond the superficial to challenge core beliefs, assumptions, and biases — and can help a person identify and recognize his or her own. Consider the case of Megan and Grace Phelps, granddaughters of the pastor who founded the Westboro Baptist Church. After interacting with a Jewish man by email and on Twitter, the sisters decided their views were wrong and decided to leave the WBC, which also meant being excommunicated by their family.

The marketplace of ideas won’t always work this way, and not everyone is destined to see the light. But restricting speech is a privileged response that neither makes society more equal nor has any tangible benefit other than providing a false sense of justice, which, in the long term, only fuels underlying problems. We cannot afford to be blind to this reality.

None of this should be construed as a plea to accept the status quo or to disengage. Rather, it’s a call for college students who support restricting speech to recognize their own privilege. Education is a gift, and college students should use the privilege it confers to advocate for change. But this means realizing free speech is not the enemy of progress, and that restricting it will not make society more equal. To do otherwise — to restrict and punish speech — is to be so willfully blind to privilege as to become the oppressors.

Chris Marchese is a Senior Financial Analyst at Meritor.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
******************************

Many on the political left today equate advocacy of free-market capitalism with an “anything goes” support for the economic status quo. Many on the political right give credence to this perception by, indeed, seeking to defend the status quo just because it happens to be so. Yet this is neither an obligatory nor an advisable approach for characterizing a genuinely well-considered free-market outlook.

Suppose that you are a free-market advocate and also an engineer, well-versed in the principles and methods for constructing durable, safe structures. Suppose you also identify severe deficiencies in a bridge proposed to be constructed by a completely private enterprise. Mr. Stolyarov explores the implications of this dilemma and the appropriate responses in a free society.

Reference

– “Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
******************************

Many on the political left today equate advocacy of free-market capitalism with an “anything goes” support for the economic status quo. Many on the political right give credence to this perception by, indeed, seeking to defend the status quo just because it happens to be so. Yet this is neither an obligatory nor an advisable approach for characterizing a genuinely well-considered free-market outlook.

Suppose that you are a free-market advocate and also an engineer, well-versed in the principles and methods for constructing durable, safe structures. You hold that individuals and businesses should have the freedom to be able to build structures which would improve human well-being, in exchange for the opportunity to earn a profit (or not, if they wish to build structures for a charitable purpose). Now suppose that you are tasked with evaluating the integrity of a particular structure constructed by a private business – perhaps a bridge. This particular bridge happens to be fully privately funded – no subsidies, no exclusive rights, no barriers to competitors’ entry. The business undertaking the construction intends for the bridge to be used as part of a major new toll road that is intended to carry massive amounts of traffic.

Unfortunately, upon deploying your technical skillset and studying the bridge design carefully, you find that the bridge, while it is represented as being able to withstand one thousand cars at a time, would in fact collapse under the weight of only five hundred cars. You also find that, in your basic repertoire of engineering techniques, you have knowledge of construction techniques and superior materials which would rectify these design flaws and enable the bridge to be as safe and as durable as originally represented. The trouble is that the business owners want to hear none of it. They are attached to their original design partly out of cost considerations, but mostly because they simply cannot understand your findings or appreciate their significance, no matter how many different ways you have attempted to communicate them. The business owners have almost no engineering knowledge themselves and are generally contemptuous of overtly mathematical, “nerdy” types (like you). They are skilled salespeople who have capital from a previous venture and are eager to make additional money on a high-profile project such as this bridge. Suppose that you know that you have all of the technical knowledge of your discipline firmly on your side, but it is the owners’ money on the line, so, unconvinced by your arguments, they build the bridge according to their original specifications. They still advertise it as highly durable, but in a sufficiently nebulous way that the advertisements do not truly make any specific promises or technical claims. (This business is short on technically knowledgeable professionals, but spares no expense in hiring attorneys to litigation-proof its marketing materials.) The driving public’s impression from the marketing campaign is expected to be, “It is an incredibly sturdy, state-of-the-art, daring new bridge that you will enjoy driving on in safety and style.” The business owners contend that there is no problem. After all, were this a truly free market, the public could choose to pay to use their bridge or to find some alternative in getting from point A to point B. And competitors could build their own bridges, too, if they could buy the land, purchase the tools and materials, and hire the labor to do it.

Of course, on most days, this bridge would not collapse, since it is rare for five hundred cars to be on it simultaneously. The owners could well be reaping profits from their bridge for years and convince the lay public to drive on it with no visible ill consequences during that time. The bridge is, however, vulnerable to high winds, earthquakes, freezing damage, and gradual deterioration over time (exacerbated by substandard construction). As time passes, the risks of collapse increase. No bridge is invulnerable, but this particular bridge is about 30 years farther along the path to decay than other bridges that you know could easily have been built in its place, had the owners only listened to you. As a free-market advocate, you have some sympathies with the owners’ view that the construction of the bridge should not be forcibly prevented, as they are using their own property for their own chosen purposes, and they are not forcing anyone to use it. However, as an engineer who knows better when it comes to quality of bridge design and construction, what do you do?

This dilemma illustrates a question at the core of how free-market advocates approach the world in which they find themselves – a world, of course, which is far from free in an economic sense, but where many people still use their own property for their own purposes. There are some who will assert that the very fact of private, voluntary use of property renders such use inherently above criticism, provided it is a manifestation of free choice. (We can overlook, for the sake of this argument, the fact that, in the real world, many incentives and constraints upon human action are routinely distorted by the effects of political influences in favor of one group or set of outcomes and/or in opposition to others.) In this argument’s more typical instantiation in today’s world, some would assert that any outcome of “private enterprise” in today’s world must be acceptable for free-market advocates, since it was (ostensibly) somebody’s use of private property for a private purpose. For example, mass corporate layoffs (virtually unheard of until the 1970s), raising the price of a life-saving, long-generic drug by 5,556 percent (as pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli did with Daraprim in 2015), listening to or creating brutal “gangsta rap” (virtually unheard of until the 1990s), teaching of creationism in private schools (common throughout history, but increasingly untenable in the face of over 150 years of mounting evidence), and many other behaviors of questionable rationality and/or taste are defended as being the decisions of private entities – so what could be wrong about them?

The problem with reflexively defending any and every behavior, just because a private entity undertakes it, even in the absence of market distortions, is that it misses an essential point. The market is nothing more than the sum of the choices and actions of its participants. A market outcome is not a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds” scenario. Even in the absence of compulsion or restraint, some people will be mistaken, irrational, overconfident, immoral, confused, or all of the above. Ex ante, they may expect that the transactions and behaviors they engage in will benefit them – much like a tribal shaman might believe that his rain dance would bring forth water for the tribe’s crops – but, ex post, they may well find themselves regretting their behavior, or even if not, they may have still become materially, intellectually, or emotionally worse off from it compared to the alternatives. In addition to choice, there is also truth – which comes in the form of scientific, mathematical, historical, and philosophical principles and facts. Truth is an outcome of combining induction from the empirical facts of reality with deduction from the application of logical reasoning to known facts and incontrovertible first principles. It is entirely possible for a person – including a wealthy, powerful, influential person whose decisions affect thousands or millions of others – to completely miss what the truth is, or even to be ignorant of the correct methods of arriving at the truth. In other words, if the external reality is objective and governed by comprehensible natural laws – and if morality is also objective in the sense that some outcomes are incontrovertibly more beneficial to human well-being than others – then it must be the case that somebody who is thinking in a rational, well-informed manner can truly “know better” than a particular decision-maker who is not.

Does that mean that the market could be replaced by some “superior” system of decision-making? Ultimately, no. We have no guarantee that any substitution of decision-making for that of private actors could lead to a necessarily preferable result from those decision makers’ free choices. If Person A is irrational and mistaken, we have no guarantee that leaving Person B in charge of A’s life would not lead to even more irrational and mistaken choices, compounded by the knowledge problem that B will necessarily have in relation to A’s situation. The possibility that B could be not simply misguided but nefarious, and seek to sacrifice A’s genuine interests in favor of B’s own, is a further argument against this kind of command-and-control approach. More devastating, however, would be an outcome in which a different person, C, really is doing his best to act in a truthful, rational, and just manner, but the controller B does not see it. Or perhaps B does see it and thinks it is all well and good, but B needs to set uniform standards that would keep the lowest common denominator in check, and C’s scrupulous, innovative, and principled way of living could never be generalized to a society-wide system of controls.

But getting back to you, the engineer: How to address the dilemma that you are in? Has the “market” not “decided” that the bridge of substandard technical quality is just fine? Not so fast. We must never forget that we are the market, and that the market does not only consist of the first decisions and inclinations of some small group of wealthy, powerful, or connected individuals. Quite the contrary: We are what a truly free market consists of. A truly free market consists not only of our affirmative choices, but also of our negations and criticisms of certain other choices. It consists of our knowledge, including those situations where we truly “know better” than certain others. You, the free-market engineer, could not force the bridge owners to change their design. However, you could fully publicize its flaws in a fully free society, one characterized by robust protections of free speech and lack of a climate of frivolous litigation with regard to libel laws. If today such professional criticism is difficult, it is because many larger, politically connected enterprises will hire legions of attorneys to squelch sufficiently specific assertions in meritless litigation that is too costly for ordinary people to counter. But a truly free society would lack this obstacle and would include a legal system that is designed with speed, simplicity, affordability, and protections for peaceful natural persons in mind. A corporation would not be able to sue you for publicizing detailed criticisms of its products; the judge would be empowered to simply throw out such a lawsuit at first glance. A truly free market of goods and ideas is not an indiscriminate stew of anyone’s and everyone’s plans. Any such plans also would get tested, scrutinized, refined, and ultimately accepted or rejected by the other market participants. To the extent that one owns property that could sustain the perpetuation of a plan, one might counter even strongly held prevailing opinions – but only temporarily and only if one has other means of replenishing that property if the plan causes it to be depleted.

Moreover, in a truly free market, barriers to entry exist only on the basis of the constraints of the physical world, not on politics and special behind-the-scenes influence. Thus, competitors can always arise with a superior business model. Perhaps if you, the engineer, criticize the existing bridge sufficiently, another business enterprise will learn of its defects, purchase another piece of land, and construct a parallel, sturdier bridge that takes your suggestions into account. The misguided owners of the first bridge might eventually find themselves out of business because travelers will discover that safer, more convenient routes are available. And if the bridge ever does fail, a free-market system of civil liability will penalize those businesses who, through negligence, failed to take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their customers. If the bridge ever becomes an imminent danger to travelers, it would be proper for public warnings to be issued and for the law-enforcement entity (be it a minarchist government or a private dispute-resolution agency) to order that traffic to the bridge be discontinued until the immediate danger is averted (perhaps through structural improvements at that time). A free market does not permit the reckless endangerment of unwitting, non-consenting others.

But always, in a hypothetical free-market society or in our own, a free-market-oriented engineer – or any professional, really – should have no compunction about expressing the truth about the soundness and validity of any party’s decisions or proposals, be they private or governmental. Just as a private party may well propose building a substandard bridge, so might a government today actually develop a decent bridge, especially if the incentives of a given political system are conducive to that particular outcome. The free-market engineer should not hesitate to praise the technical design of a good bridge, no matter what its source – because truth is true, and a bridge that could support two thousand cars at a time would, indeed, support those cars no matter who constructed it (provided the methods and materials used are identical in each case). A free-market perspective is a political and economic position which is compatible with completely rigorous, objective views of matters of science, technology, mathematics, history, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, psychology, and any other conceivable discipline. Free-market advocates should respect people’s right to make choices, even when those choices are mistaken, but can maintain their own right to criticize those mistakes using as high a set of standards as they consider justified. If your values include striving for truth and justice, then those values are a part of the market as well, and you can improve market outcomes by working to instantiate those values in reality.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.