Tag Archives: freedom

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P.G. Wodehouse Knew the Way: Fight Fascism with Humor – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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Categories: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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One of my favorite characters from 20th century pop fiction is Roderick Spode, also known as Lord Sidcup, from the 1930s series Jeeves and Wooster by P.G. Wodehouse, and hilariously portrayed in the 1990s TV adaptation starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. He perfectly captures the bluster, blather, and preposterous intellectual conceit of the interwar aspiring dictator.
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Back in the day, these people were all the same, whether George Lincoln Rockwell in the US, Oswald Mosley in the UK, or more well-known statesmen in interwar Europe. They were nativists, protectionists, longed for dictatorship, and believed that science had their back.
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Rather than a tedious denunciation, Wodehouse gives us something more effective. He created a composite and caricature of all of them and turned it to hilarity.
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Books about Nothing

Like Seinfeld, Jeeves and Wooster was “about nothing” but managed compelling cultural commentary that shaped the way a generation saw the world around them. It chronicled the amusing superficial lives of third-generation English upper class, lovable people with declining financial resources but too much dignity to take on the task of actually earning a living. There is a strong liberal spirit running through the whole series.

Roderick Spode is a character who makes appearances at odd times, making speeches to his couple dozen followers, blabbing on in the park and bamboozling naïve passersby, blowing up at people, practicing his demagogic delivery style. A handful of people take him seriously but mostly he and his “brownshort” followers are merely a source of amusement and annoyance to the London scene.

Why shorts? It seems that by the time he started ordering uniforms for his followers, there were no more shirts left. Red, brown, and black were already taken. Plus the company he contacted only had affordable shorts, so brown shorts it would be. So the required eugenic theory of his group naturally surrounded knees. He wanted everyone’s knees compulsorily measured:

Not for the true-born Englishman the bony angular knee of the so-called intellectual, not for him the puffy knee of the criminal classes. The British knee is firm, the British knee is muscular, the British knee is on the march!

The television series made him less British than German in aspiration. Here is his first speech in the television series, in which proclaims the “right, nay the duty” of every Briton to grow his own potatoes.

And here he is proposing mandatory bicycles and umbrellas for all free-born Britons. A fellow standing around says, “I say, I’ve never quite thought of it that way.”

Spode is also secretly a coward. In his other life, he is the owner, by virtue of family inheritance, of a shop that designs intimate clothing for women. He is desperate to keep this a secret, believing this profession to be incompatible with the career ambitions of an aspiring dictator. Anyone who knows this secret about his life has deep control over his psyche, with only the threat of revelation keeping him under control.

They Are Ridiculous

The entire caricature was a humiliation for the fascists of the period because it spoke truth. Their plans for economic life are ridiculous. Their eugenic theories are pseudo-science. Their pretensions to command a massive following are completely wrong. And in their private lives, they are just like everyone else: they aren’t demigods or elites or superior in any sense. They are just dudes who are exploiting public curiosity and fear to gain attention and power. They are trolls.

Humor is a great method for dealing with clowns like these, as Saturday Night Live has recently rediscovered. At the same time, we are mistaken to think they are not a threat to civilized life. In real life, Mosley in the UK and Rockwell in the US were a serious menace, as much as the establishments they opposed.

The statist Left and the statist Right play off each other, creating a false binary that draws people into their squabble. People need to understand, as F.A. Hayek emphasized in Road to Serfdom, that the fascists and communists are really two sides of a split within the same movement, each of which aspires to control the population with a version of a central plan.

It’s a question of how best to deal with them. Ideally clowns like this would be ignored, left to sit alone at the bar or at the park with their handful of deluded acolytes. That’s how Wodehouse presented his fascist – just as a silly distraction whose only value is a good joke. However, this is not typically how people do deal with them. They are so offensive to people’s ideals that they inspire massive opposition, and that opposition in turn creates public scenes that gain a greater following for the demagogue. This cycle continues to the point that the entire political landscape becomes deeply poisoned with hate and acts of vengeance.

When thinking of how genuine lovers of human liberty should deal with such settings, I always fall back on Ludwig von Mises from 1927.

It is often maintained that what divides present-day political parties is a basic opposition in their ultimate philosophical commitments that cannot be settled by rational argument. The discussion of these antagonisms must therefore necessarily prove fruitless … Nothing is more absurd than this belief … Rhetorical bombast, music and song resound, banners wave, flowers and colors serve as symbols, and the leaders seek to attach their followers to their own person. Liberalism has nothing to do with all this. It has no party flower and no party color, no party song and no party idols, no symbols and no slogans. It has the substance and the arguments. These must lead it to victory.

It can be the hardest thing in the world to remember this in the midst of political upheaval and antagonisms. People tend to believe they must join the Left to defeat the Right or join the Right to defeat the Left, forgetting that there is a third option: rule by no party and no one, but rather by universal self-rule and the society of freedom first and always.

It’s the tragedy of real-world politics that we keep moving through these phases, trading one style of central plan for another, one type of despot for another, without understanding that none are necessary. True defenders of liberty get it. That should inspire us to smile from time to time.

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.

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Do You Know Who the Swiss President Is? – Article by Bill Wirtz

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Categories: History, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatBill Wirtz
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Doris Leuthard. That’s the name of the incumbent Swiss president in case you wondered or might need it in a general knowledge quiz any time soon. But how come a country this well known on the international stage happens to have such an unknown executive?

The Swiss Opposed Centralization from the Start

The beginning of the Swiss confederacy wasn’t about power.

From the 14th century on, while Europe was torn in territorial conflicts or the religious Thirty Years War of 1618 to 1648, the (originally) 8 cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy were a microcosm of peace and prosperity. These cantons in themselves did have religious differences, but preferred to agree on a pact of mutual military assistance to protect the neutrality of the region and its peace. The Holy Roman Empire had granted this community of cantons imperial immediacy, meaning they were declared free from its rule while being a part of it. As the European royalties raised massive amounts of taxes to finance their decade-long wars, being Swiss was comparable to living in the first true tax haven: by any means the destruction in all of Europe made the differences that these cantons have look insignificant.

Later, religious differences in Switzerland grew, sparkling battles between Catholic and Protestant cantons. Each of these battles had winners, yet none were able to impose a true change of regime, as the cantons were too diverse to be governable. The cantonal governments refused to cooperate with each other: the only foreign policy they could agree on was that of neutrality, which ended up saving it from war.

The French Revolutionary army invaded the Confederacy in 1798 and established the Helvetic Republic, a centralized state, abolished cantonal sovereignty and feudal rights and reduced the cantons to administrative districts, all in the image of France itself. This French nation-building project failed 5 years later, as the population didn’t cooperate with any centralization attempts. The Helvetic Republic was incompatible with the Swiss mentality: the people demanded that government decisions be made at the canton level, not at the federal level.

Centralization and Switzerland’s Civil War

After decades of struggles over the centralization of power, a civil war ended the everlasting Swiss question of the legitimacy of a federal government. The Sonderbund War started in 1847 and was a fight between seven conservative and Catholic cantons who opposed the centralization of power and rebelled against the Confederation which had been in place since 1814. What followed was probably one of the least spectacular wars in world history: the federal army had lost 78 men and had 260 wounded. The Sonderbund conspiracy dissolved and Switzerland became the state it is today in 1848.

Think about this, the Swiss fight (which was marked by its incredible lack of violence in comparison to others) was purely over the rejection of the centralization of power, the skepticism of the responsibilities that a large entity has, while, mind you, we’re only talking about a country of 16,000 square miles. The result is a relatively neutral state which maintains a greater amount of freedom and prosperity than most European nations.

The Federal Council, Impotent by Design

The executive of the federal multi-party directorial republic is a body called the Federal Council. It is composed of 7 members (each one responsible for one of the seven departments in Switzerland) who are voted into their position by both chambers of the Federal Assembly. Their presidency and vice-presidency is rotating each year, their mandate is four years. The current council is composed of 2 social democrats, 2 center-right conservatives, 2 national conservatives, and one Christian-democrat (Doris Leuthard, who’s the current president).

While the Confederation of Switzerland was designed to follow the example of the United States when it comes to federalism and states’ rights, the Swiss avoided the concentration of the executive into one person. It is interesting to note that although every European country made (and makes) constant changes to their form of government, this council has not changed since 1848. The only political change has been made to the Federal Council, is the reversal of the Magic Formula, or also known as the Swiss consensus, a political custom which divided the 7 seats in the country between the four ruling parties. With the arrival of billionaire industrialist and EU-opponent Christoph Blocher and his Swiss People’s Party, this political agreement had been shaken up and, furthermore, made Switzerland’s accession to the European Union more and more unlikely.

The council shows unity towards to the public and most decisions are made by consensus. That is largely because their function is more decorative than functional, as most of the power is still held by the cantons. Decisions related to education and even levying taxes are made at the regional level. There is no executive action or veto which the federal government could use.

The president of Switzerland has little to no room in public political discourse. So if you don’t know who the new president of Switzerland is, don’t worry. Some Swiss people might not know either.

Localism Works in Switzerland

The Swiss cantons perform the balancing act of politics: the conservative cantons are those outside of the big cities such as Zurich, Geneva or Bern (the capital). The population in the smaller communities reject the tendency to govern from the capital. As a result, the Swiss have continuously rejected proposals like the ones phasing out nuclear energy.

This push for localism would be considerably more difficult if it wasn’t for the system of direct democracy that is very common in the Confederacy.

All federal laws are subject to a three to four step process:

  1. A first draft is prepared by experts in the federal administration.
  2. This draft is presented to a large number of people in an opinion poll: cantonal governments, political parties as well as many NGO’s and associations out of civil society may comment on the draft and propose changes.
  3. The result is presented to dedicated parliamentary commissions of both chambers of the federal parliament, discussed in detail behind closed doors and finally debated in public sessions of both chambers of parliament.
  4. The electorate has a veto-right on laws: If anybody is able to find 50,000 citizens who will sign a form demanding a referendum within 3 months, a referendum must be held. In order to pass a referendum, laws need only be supported by a majority of the national electorate, not a majority of cantons. It’s not unusual for Switzerland to have referenda on more than a dozen laws in any given year.

These referenda are the reason why the political majorities have decided to include their own opposition in government: if the majority does not seek a consensus, the oppositions can use a citizens initiative (referendum) to overturn any decision made on the national level.

The system of checks and balances through both the aggressively localist cantons and the tool of direct democracy has made Switzerland particularly resistant to the growth of government, and one of the few relatively liberty-minded bastions in Europe.

Bill Wirtz studies French Law at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France.

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

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

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Categories: Culture, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

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

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Categories: Culture, Philosophy, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

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Why Was Coffee Drinking Once Scandalous? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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Categories: Culture, Economics, History, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey Tucker
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In 18th-century Europe, many products and services reached a newly emergent middle class for the first time in human history. The capitalist age was maturing, and that meant that average people had money for the first time and lots of choices on how to spend it. One of the new products they could buy was coffee. With that came a great deal of social suspicion and even dread.

None other than Johann Sebastian Bach satirized the puritanical fear of coffee in his delightful and witty “Coffee Cantata.” It was one of the few times he ever tried his hand at pure pop entertainment. Of course he succeeded brilliantly; he was Bach after all!

The “Coffee Cantata” tells the story of a daughter who scandalized her father due to her devotion to coffee. She couldn’t stop singing about how wonderful it is, while her father corrected her constantly.

“You naughty child, you wild girl, ah!” the father yells at his daughter. “When will I achieve my goal: get rid of the coffee for my sake!”

“Father sir, but do not be so harsh!” she responds. “If I couldn’t, three times a day, be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee, in my anguish I will turn into a shriveled-up roast goat.”

She happily agrees to do everything he says in every area of life except one: she will not give up coffee.

And then follows a beautiful tribute to coffee: “How sweet coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses, milder than muscatel wine. Coffee, I have to have coffee, and, if someone wants to pamper me, ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!”

The father threatens her: “If you don’t give up coffee for me, you won’t go to any wedding parties, or even go out for walks.”

She still refuses.

Then the daughter plays a little game. She has a husband in mind and extracts from him a promise that if she marries him, he must allow her to drink coffee. He agrees. Then she goes to her father, who opposes the marriage, and makes a deal: if she is permitted to marry him, she will give up coffee. The father is delighted, and agrees.

Thus does the daughter gain a new husband, and, much more importantly, a permanent right to drink coffee whenever she wants!

What was this fear of coffee? Why was this such a big deal? It does have some narcotic properties to it, as we all know so well. It can give you a delightful lift.

But that alone does not account for the early opprobrium with which coffee-drinking, particularly for young girls, was greeted. For a fuller account, we need to understand something larger and more socially transformative: the advent of the coffee house itself.

The coffee house was one of the earliest public institutions, operating on a purely commercial basis, that brought a wide variety of social classes, not to mention a mixture between men and women, in a market-based social setting. In the 18th century, coffee houses spread all over Europe and the UK, attracting young people who would sit and drink together and discuss politics, religion, and business, and exchange any manner of ideas.

What the father in the Cantata is actually objecting to is not coffee as such but unapproved, unchaperoned social wanderings.

The Loss of Control

This was a huge departure from the tradition that entitled parents and other social authorities, including governments, to determine what kind of associations their children would have. Coffee houses introduced a kind of anarchy to the social structure, and introduced new risks of randomized contact with ideas and people that parents could no longer control. Coffee represented freedom itself – the freedom to mix, mingle, and consume what one wanted.

Indeed, coffee houses became a great source of public controversy. In England, in the 17th Century, Charles II tried to ban them all on grounds that they were “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers.” Even a century later, women were banned from attending them, and this was true in France as well. Germany had more liberal laws concerning women and coffee but public suspicion was still high, as the “Coffee Cantata” suggests.

houghton_ec65a100674w_-_womens_petition_against_coffee

Women who were banned from coffee houses developed a very clever response. In the famous “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” of 1674, women said that coffee was responsible for the “enfeeblement” of men. Historians say the campaign contributed to the gender integration of coffee houses.

We see, then, that the commercial availability of coffee actually contributed to the advance of women’s rights!

Looking back at the astonishing success of Starbucks in our own time, it doesn’t seem surprising. They too serve as gathering spots, social mixers, places of business, and centers of conversation and ideas. We are more accustomed to it now than centuries ago, and yet even today, how much political controversy is engendered by access to products and services of which social authorities disapprove?

War on pot anyone?

As the “Coffee Cantata” concludes:

Cats do not give up mousing,
girls remain coffee-sisters.
The mother adores her coffee-habit,
and grandma also drank it,
so who can blame the daughters!

 

Jeffrey Tucker


Jeffrey 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.

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George Washington’s Letter to the Jews – Article by Sarah Skwire

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Categories: History, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatSarah Skwire
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In August of 1790, George Washington wrote a brief letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. If anything, it is more timely than ever as we continue to struggle with questions of toleration and bigotry, and of the joys and dangers of insisting on freedom of conscience in our nation and in our lives.

Gentlemen:

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy. ~ G. Washington

Washington came to Newport for a visit on August 17th, 1790  and was addressed by Moses Seixas, one of the officials of the long-established Jewish congregation of Newport. Seixas noted that, given the grim history of the Jews, America was a particularly important place, for:

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine…

While I suspect many reader will find, as I do, the notion of being a part of the “great governmental machine” far less appealing than Seixas did, his main point remains a vital one. For a people who had been chased from their homes by persecution, forced conversions, violence, and governmental theft of their property, the American promise of toleration was an almost incomprehensible blessing.

Toleration in Rhode Island

When I visited the Touro synagogue—home of the Jewish congregation Washington addressed—last week, my tour guide reminded me that Rhode Island’s version of religious toleration was particularly impressive, even within the wider American context.

Founded by the famously ornery Roger Williams, who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for spreading “new and dangerous opinions,” and established by a charter from King Charles II,  Rhode Island was based on principles of complete religious toleration from its very beginning. The 1663 founding charter notes that Rhode Island is meant to be:

a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained…with a full liberty in religious concernments… our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly, and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others, any law, statute, or clause therein contained, or to be contained, usage or custom of this realm, to the contrary hereof, in any wise notwithstanding.

Even the structure of Newport echoes the words of its royal charter. The city’s churches are not next to the statehouse, but clustered behind it, emphasizing their equality with one another and the separation between church and state.

It is hard for a modern reader to understand exactly how astonishing this promise of complete freedom of religious conscience was for the time. Perhaps the best way to think about it is that, when this royal charter was drawn up, Europe had suffered through more than 120 years of near-constant religious warfare. The death toll from that religiously motivated violence totaled somewhere between 5.6 and 18.5 million, depending on which historians you read and whether or not you count deaths caused by diseases and famine resulting from warfare.

Rhode Island must have seemed like a miracle to any 17th-century citizen. And for the Jews of Spain and Portugal, making their way to Newport via Amsterdam, the promise of such freedom must have been tantalizing and a little terrifying. Could they really trust that non-Christian religions would be included in these promises? Would they really be safe?

They would.

And the letter that Seixas read to George Washington makes that sense of security perfectly clear. Seixas did not speak of toleration and freedom as promises made in hopes of some much-desired future. He spoke of them as established truths that were in place then and there, as he was writing. “We now …behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Freedom Works

Washington’s response to Seixas and the other Jews of Newport is similarly focused on the success of the American experiment in toleration. He writes:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

The Revolution is over. The Constitution is in place. The Republic has not fallen apart in its first years. There is reason to be proud, says Washington.

More importantly, he argues that toleration is not a question of an elite extending a favor to a lower and less worthy class. Toleration is about the equal treatment of all. The Jews of Newport are not “tolerated” the way that one learns to live with a leaky faucet or a small ding on your car bumper. Their differences are tolerated because their persons are equal.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Repeating Seixas’s phrasing back to him, in words that have become a crucial part of American thinking, Washington reassures him, and all the Jews of Newport, that he and they are of one mind on the subject of toleration.

We should think, today, about that phrase that Seixas originated and Washington repeated. It makes a fine model for how we should behave in the increasingly fraught religious tensions of the 21st century.

A civil society should give to bigotry no sanction, and to persecution no assistance. That means that those of us who are already here may not use our position to persecute newcomers, nor may we use their differences as an excuse for hatred and ill-treatment. But this is a covenant that must work in both directions. To enter into a civil society, one must make those promises as well.

Old hatreds, old prejudices, and old patterns of persecution must be left on the doormat of a civil society—discarded, like a pair of muddy boots, before you come in.

Only then can we regain the pride that Seixas and Washington had in a toleration that they felt was secured. Only then can we close our letters as Washington closed his, with the conviction that now, “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

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.

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A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

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The New Renaissance HatRyan Miller
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I recently finished Anthem by Ayn Rand. In this short novella she tells the story of Equality 7-2521 (later called Prometheus), a man living in a dystopian collectivist society which has eclipsed the individual to such a degree that words such as “I” and “my” no longer even exist. The story is about Prometheus’ discovery of himself as an individual and of the world as it was before.

In this society babies are taken immediately from their “parents”, who were assigned to one another by the Council of Eugenics for the sole purpose of breeding, raised in the Home of Infants and then in the Home of Students, and then finally assigned their life-long profession at the age of 15 by the Council of Vocations. Everything is done for the supposed benefit of your brothers, preference is not allowed, superior ability is not allowed, and back-breaking toil is praised as such and not as a way to improve your own or humanity’s situation.

Dictatorship Means Poverty

But what is striking about this story is how accurately it portrays how the world would look under such life-throttling conditions. The Home of the Scholars is praised for having only recently (100 years ago) (re)invented marvels such as candles and glass. Since the times before the “Great Rebirth” and the discovery of the “Great Truth”—namely, “that all men are one and there is no will save the will of all men together”—humanity has, in reality, lost the progress of thousands of years and has reverted back to a time before even such basic utilities as oil lamps or clocks.

But Ayn Rand’s genius is that this is exactly what would happen to the world should it ever discover and truly act upon this “Great Truth.” Yet this is not typically how dystopian stories portray this type of society. Stories such as Brave New World1984The GiverDivergentEquilibrium, and many others, all love to show some type of ultra-technologically-advanced world in the backdrop of total or near total oppression, suppression of the individual, and enforcement of conformity.

Despite the almost total (and often drug-induced) destruction of individual will, drive, and creativity, these societies have reached unprecedented levels of technological competence. This is especially true when one considers when many of these stories were written.

In Brave New World, written in 1931, everyone has a personal helicopter, science has advanced to such a degree that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary parts of the breeding process, and everyone is kept docile and happy by the apparently side-effect lacking drug Soma.

In 1984 (published in 1949) there are two way telescreens, miniscule microphones and cameras, and speak/writes which turn whatever you say into text. In the other stories technology is advanced enough to, among other things, control weather (The Giver), give kids serum-induced psychological aptitude tests (Divergent), and to completely suppress emotions (Equilibrium). In addition to these there are countless other inventions or practices in these stories and the many others of the dystopian future genre.

Invention Requires Freedom

The question that needs to be asked, however, is who invented all these things? These marvel feats, which in the stories are often used for the end of some malevolent goal, are really all potentially awesome, or at least highly complex and complicated, inventions or innovations. Their conception and ultimate realization would have required years of thought, testing, failure, tinkering, and then success—things which all require individual ingenuity, creativity, and the incentives arising from the prospect of individual pride and gain.

Every great break-through in history was achieved by some odd-ball going against the grain or traditionally accepted view of things in their particular field. If they had done things the way people had always done them, they would never have had the ability to think outside the box and discover or create a unique solution to the problem at hand. Inventors and innovators need their quirkiness, eccentricity, social awkwardness, or will and ability to stand up to the existing order. And they need that coupled with the idea that they have something to gain.

But all of these stories, to different degrees, have built societies that destroy our differences, our emotions, our passions, our ability to think differently, and our incentives to create if were even able to.

So where do these advanced societies come from? Sure they could drink from the well of wealth created by the society that may have preceded it, but only for a while. It would eventually dry up. And without new generations of ambitious and intelligent dreamers, tinkerers, outside-the-boxers, there would be no one around to rebuild the wealth. This is the world that Ayn Rand creates in Anthem. The hopeless world without individuals.

The existence of advanced societies in many dystopian stories is reminiscent of the problem with the thinking in our world today and in the past: the thinking that things “just happen”—that innovation, invention, and progress are phenomena which occur naturally, regardless of conditions. Though the worlds portrayed in these other novels are far from desirable, the progress alone that the societies in them have reached is a reflection of this idea that most people, at least passively or unknowingly, buy into.

In reality the world would look much more like that of Anthem.

 

ryan_miller

Ryan Miller is a University of Michigan graduate, freelance translator, and aspiring blogger. He is also a Praxis participant in the September 2016 cohort.

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

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The Rational Argumentator’s Fourteenth Anniversary Manifesto: Who Is the Western Man?

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
August 31, 2016
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Who Is the Western Man?

On the fourteenth anniversary of The Rational Argumentator, it is fitting to consider the tagline that has been featured on TRA since its founding: “A Journal for Western Man”. But who is this Western Man for whom The Rational Argumentator is intended? In 2002, the answer to that question seemed rather apparent for at least a substantial segment of then-prevalent libertarian, conservative, and Objectivist thinkers who, each in their own way, understood the Western Man to stand for the general cultural ideals and noblest aspirations of Western civilization.

Unfortunately, the decade of the 2010s and the past two years especially have seen the rise of a noxious and fundamentally anti-Western, anti-modern, and anti-civilization movement known as the “alt-right”, which has attempted to appropriate the rhetoric of Western culture and even of the Renaissance for itself. The Rational Argumentator will not allow this appropriation to remain unchallenged. TRA stands resolutely in opposition to all forms of bigotry, racism, nativism, misogyny, and any other circumstantially rooted intolerance – all of which are contrary to the ideals of high Western civilization. But at the same time, The Rational Argumentator also cannot cave to the “social justice” campus activism of the far Left, which would have even the very identification of Western culture and civilization banished, lest it offend the ever-more-delicate sensibilities of firebrand youths who resolutely refuse to let knowledge of the external world get in the way of their “feelings” and subjective experiences. TRA will not abandon the Western Man, but will continue to explain what it is that the Western Man represents and why these principles are more important and enduring than any tumultuous, ephemeral, and most likely futile and self-defeating activist movements of our era.

So who is the Western Man? It is a not a particular man from the West. It is not a descriptor limited to a particular subset of individuals based on their birth, skin color, national origin, or even gender. Indeed, my original intent behind the “Western Man” descriptor was specifically to salvage the generic term “man” – meaning an archetypical representative of humankind – from any suggestions that it must necessarily be gender-specific. This subtitle was meant transparently to imply, “Of course, ‘Western Man’ includes women, too!”  Some of the greatest and most courageous Western Men – from Hypatia of Alexandria to Mary Wollstonecraft to Ayn Rand to Ayaan Hirsi Ali – have been women.

A Western Man can have been born anywhere, have any physical features, any age, any gender (or lack of gender identity), any sexual preferences (or lack thereof), any religion (or lack thereof) – as long as he/she/it is a thinking being who accepts the valuable contributions of Western culture and civilization and seeks to build upon them. If self-aware, rational artificial intelligences are developed in the future, or if an intelligent alien species comes into contact with us, these beings could potentially be Western Men as well.

A Western Man will respect and seek to learn from the great philosophy, literature, art, music, natural and social sciences, mathematics, and political theory that flourished in Western societies throughout the past three millennia – although by no means is a Western man required to focus exclusively on ideas that originated in the West. Indeed, Western culture itself has unceasingly interacted with and absorbed the intellectual contributions of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Arabic, Persian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese thinkers and creators – to provide just a few examples. Likewise, a great deal of hope for the future of Western civilization can be found among entrepreneurs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America who have endeavored, with notable success, to spread the technologies of the digital age, construct great buildings, and lift billions of people out of abject poverty and into humane and respectable living standards accompanied by ever-increasing longevity.

A Western Man is someone who embraces the ideal of cosmopolitan universalism – a rejection of circumstantially defined tribalism, of the casting of people as “one of us” or “the other” based on attributes that they did not choose. This cosmopolitan universalism is the product of both a long-evolving philosophical framework and the material abundance that enabled the broadening of what Adam Smith termed our circles of sympathy to encompass ever more people.

The edifice of Western philosophical thought has been built upon by thinkers since the times of Thales, Socrates, and Aristotle – but its greatest intellectual breakthroughs were made during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment. The Western Men who embraced these ideals were often personally flawed; they were men of their time and constrained by the practical realities and social mores that surrounded them. Some Western Men throughout history have, unfortunately, owned slaves, respected individual liberty only in some instances, or been improperly prejudiced against broad groups of people due to ignorance or gaps in the consistent application of their principles. Nonetheless, the legacy of their work – the notions of universal, inalienable individual rights and the preciousness of each person’s liberty and humanity – has been indispensable for later accomplishments, such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and liberation, civil and privacy rights, cultural and legal acceptance of homosexuality, and recognition of individual rights for members of religious minorities, atheists, and children. If we are able to see farther and know better than to repeat some of the moral errors of the past, it is because, to paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, we stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants who paved the way for our embrace of the aforementioned great cultural achievements.

The ideals of peaceful commerce and cultural exchange – indeed, cultural appropriation (in an educated, informed, and deliberate manner) of the best elements of every time, place, and way of life – have resulted in a dramatic reduction in warfare, a general decline in nationalistic and tribal hatreds, and a widespread understanding of the essential humanity of our fellows in all parts of the world. Were it not for the intellectual achievements of Western civilization and the global commercial and industrial networks to which it gave rise, humankind would still be embroiled in a bitter, Hobbesian war of all against all. A Western Man is anyone who gives the essential achievements of modernity their well-deserved recognition and admiration, and who studies and offers justified respect to the forebears and authors of these achievements. A Western Man is also anyone who seeks to build upon these accomplishments and add his, her, or its distinctive bricks to the edifice of human progress.

A Western Man is not a fanatic or a bully, and sees fanatics and bullies as the threats to civilization that they are. A Western Man does not use ideology to stifle peaceful expression or compel others to dutifully “know their place” within some would-be totalitarian static social order. A Western Man knows that some people will disagree with him, her, or it, and they have the right to disagree peacefully. However, they do not have the right to be protected from attempts at persuasion or the presentation of diverse and possibly contrary views.

A Western Man embraces reason as the way to discover more about the external world and about human beings. Reason is not the exclusive province of any subset of people; anyone is capable of it, but it takes training and effort – and great respect for the intellect – to utilize consistently and properly. From reason stem the empirical scientific method, the deductive processes of formal logic and mathematics, and the application of empirical and logical truths to the development of technology which improves the human condition. A Western Man does not vilify technology, but rather sees it as a key driver of human progress and an enabler of moral growth by giving people the time and space which prosperity affords, making possible contemplation of better ways of living and relating to others – a prerogative only available to those liberated from hand-to-mouth subsistence.

The ideal of the Western Man is to maintain the great things which have already been brought into this world, and to create new achievements that further improve human life. There is thus both a conservative and a progressive motive within the Western Man, and they must combine to sustain a rich and vital civilization. A Western Man can go by labels such as “liberal”, “conservative”, “libertarian”, “progressive”, or “apolitical” – as long as they are accompanied by careful thought, study, discernment, work ethic, and an earnest desire to build what is good instead of, out of rage or spite, tearing down whatever exists. Conservation of great achievements and progress in creating new achievements are not antagonists, but rather part of the same essential mode of functioning of the Western Man – transcending petty and often false political antagonisms which needlessly create acrimony among people who should all be working to take civilization to the next level.

The next level of civilization – the unceasing expansion of human potential – is the preoccupation of the Western Man. This – not descending into contrived identitarian antagonisms – is the great project of our era. Building on the philosophical groundwork laid by Enlightenment humanism and its derivatives, a Western Man can explore the next stage of intellectual evolution – that of transhumanism, which promises to liberate humankind from its age-old shackles of death, disease, severe scarcity, Earth-boundedness, and internecine conflict.

Who is the Western Man? If you accept the challenge and the honor of supporting and building upon the great civilization which offers us unparalleled opportunities to create a glorious future for all – then the Western Man can be you.

TRA Statistics and Achievements During Its Fourteenth Year

TRA published 211 regular features during its fourteenth year, a rate of publication comparable to that of the eleventh and thirteenth years, while remaining below the extremely active tenth and twelfth years, as shown in the table below:

TRA Year Regular Features Published Page Views in Year
10th 306 1,302,774
11th 208 1,077,192
12th 314 1,430,226
13th 228 892,082
14th 211 823,968

With slightly less content published during the fourteenth year, and a similar average number of page views per published feature (3,905.06 in the fourteenth year versus 3,912.64 in the thirteenth year), it could be expected that total page views would decline slightly. While TRA did not reach the milestone of 10,000,000 cumulative page views during its fourteenth year, it did come the overwhelming majority of the way toward it. Total lifetime TRA visitation currently stands at 9,892,636 page views. However, I am confident that the 10-million page-view threshold will be exceeded within the next two months.

I have reason to expect that publication activity will again accelerate during TRA’s fifteenth year, although this may not occur immediately. Over the past year, I have been occupied with satisfying some of the last remaining requirements of my actuarial studies, and their successful completion is in sight. In the meantime, I collaborated with ACTEX Publications to produce a major 400-page commercial study guide, Practice Problems in Advanced Topics in General Insurance, for SOA Exam GIADV.

Several large-scale endeavors within the transhumanist and life-extensionist movements were pursued over the past year. TRA’s anniversary (August 31) coincides with the date of formation of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, a non-election-oriented, non-donation-accepting, policy-oriented party that advocates for the widespread adoption of emerging technologies, individual liberty, and the pursuit of indefinite life extension. The Nevada Transhumanist Party has grown to 107 members during its first year and has been a forum for numerous thought-provoking discussions. Nevada Transhumanist Party activities have occurred online via its Facebook page and its hosted video panels, such as the Panel Discussion on Hereditary Religion, a conversation among Transhumanist Libertarians and Socialists, and the panel for International Longevity Day, in collaboration with MILE – the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension – entitled “How Can Life Extension Become as Popular as the War on Cancer?” In-person activities of the Nevada Transhumanist Party included attendance at a university political lecture, a local Libertarian candidate’s campaign event, and RAAD Fest, the largest in-person gathering of life-extension supporters to date, where I personally met and spoke with such luminaries of the life-extension movement as Aubrey de Grey, Bill Andrews, and Zoltan Istvan.

Gradual but fundamental shifts are occurring that will contribute to more frequent and impactful activity on The Rational Argumentator’s pages during its fifteenth year. As the overview of the Western Man in this manifesto indicates, the importance of TRA’s work and ideals remains paramount. TRA will remain a bulwark of thoughtful consistency in an era where it seems entire societies have become unmoored from core principles that are integral to a successful civilization. We will steadfastly champion the virtues of reason and deliberation, discussion and civil debate, individualism and classical liberal tolerance, creation and maintenance. Even when the tumult of current events calls into question the foundations of civilized life, TRA will be here to reaffirm and uphold them.

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.

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Witness to the End of Soviet Power: Twenty-Five Years Ago – Article by Richard M. Ebeling

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The New Renaissance HatRichard M. Ebeling
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Twenty-five years ago, on August 22, 1991, I stood amid a vast cheering crowd of tens of thousands of people outside the Russian parliament building in Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union. They were celebrating the failure by diehard Soviet leaders to undertake a political and military coup d’état meant to maintain dictatorial communist rule in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Soviet regime had ruled Russia and the other 14 component republics of the U.S.S.R. for nearly 75 years, since the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917 led by Vladimir Lenin and his communist cadre of Marxist followers. During that almost three-quarters of a century, first under Lenin and especially Josef Stalin and then their successors, historians have estimated that upwards of 64 million people – innocent, unarmed men, women and children – died at the hands of the Soviet regime in the name of building the “bright, beautiful future” of socialism.

Millions Dead

The forced collectivization of the land under Stalin in the early 1930s, alone, is calculated to have cost the lives of nine to twelve million Russian and Ukrainian peasants and their families who resisted the loss of their private farms and being forced into state collective farms that replaced them.

Some were simply shot; others were tortured to death or sent to die as slave labor in the concentration and labor camps in Siberia or Soviet Central Asia known as the GULAG. Millions were slowly starved to death by a government-created famine designed to force submission to the central planning dictates of Stalin and his henchmen.

Millions of others were rounded up and sent off to those prison and labor camps as part of the central plan for forced industrial and mineral mining development of the far reaches of the Soviet Union. In the 1930s and 1940s, Stalin’s central plans would include quotas for how many of the “enemies of the people” were to be arrested and executed in every city, town and district in the Soviet Union. In addition, there were quotas for how many were to be rounded up as replacements for those who had already died in the GULAG working in the vast wastelands of Siberia, northern European Russia and Central Asia.

By the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s the Soviet system had become increasingly corrupt, stagnant, and decrepit under a succession of aging Communist Party leaders whose only purpose was to hold on to power and their special privileges. In 1986 a much younger man, Mikhail Gorbachev, who had worked his way up in the Party hierarchy was appointed to the leading position of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.

Gorbachev’s Attempt to Save Socialism 

Gorbachev believed that the Soviet Union had taken several serious wrong turns in the past. But he was not an opponent of socialism or its Marxist-Leninist foundations. He wanted a new “socialism-with-a-human-face.” His goal was a “kinder and gentler” communist ideology, so to speak. He truly believed that the Soviet Union could be saved, and with it a more humane collectivist alternative to Western capitalism.

To achieve this end, Gorbachev had introduced to two reform agendas: First, perestroika, a series of economic changes meant to admit the mistakes of heavy-handed central planning. State enterprise managers were to be more accountable, small private businesses would be permitted and fostered, and Soviet companies would be allowed to form joint ventures with selected Western corporations. Flexibility and adaptability would create a new and better socialist economy.

Second, glasnost, political “openness,” under which the political follies of the past would be admitted and the formerly “blank pages” of Soviet history – especially about the “crimes of Stalin” – would be filled in. Greater historical and political honesty, it was said, would revive the moribund Soviet ideology and renew the Soviet people’s enthusiastic support for the reformed and redesigned bright socialist future.

However, over time the more hardline and “conservative” members of the Soviet leadership considered all such reforms as opening a Pandora’s Box of uncontrollable forces that would undermine the Soviet system. They had already seen this happen in the outer ring of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe.

The Beginning of the End in Eastern Europe

In 1989 Gorbachev had stood by as the Berlin Wall, the symbol of Soviet imperial power in the heart of Europe, had come tumbling down, and the Soviet “captive nations” of Eastern Europe – East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria – that Stalin had claimed as conquered booty at the end of the Second World War, began to free themselves from communist control and Soviet domination. (See my article, “The Berlin Wall and the Spirit of Freedom.”)

The Soviet hardliners were now convinced that a new political treaty that Gorbachev was planning to sign with Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Soviet Federation Republic and Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, would mean the end of the Soviet Union, itself.

Already, the small Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were reasserting the national independence they had lost in 1939-1940, as a result of Stalin and Hitler’s division of Eastern Europe. Violent, and murderous Soviet military crackdowns in Lithuania and in Latvia in January 1991 had failed to crush the budding democratic movements in those countries. Military methods had also been employed, to no avail, to keep in line the Soviet republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan. (See my article, “How Lithuania Helped Take Down the Soviet Union.”)

Communist Conspirators for Soviet Power

On August 18, 1991, the hardline conspirators tried to persuade Gorbachev to reverse his planned political arrangements with the Russian Federation and Soviet Kazakhstan. When he refused he was held by force in a summer home he was vacationing at in the Crimea on the Black Sea.

Early on the morning of August 19, the conspirators issued a declaration announcing their takeover of the Soviet government. A plan to capture and possibly kill Boris Yeltsin failed. Yeltsin eluded the kidnappers and made his way to the Russian parliament building from his home outside Moscow. Military units loyal to the conspirators ringed the city with tanks on every bridge leading into the city and along every main thoroughfare in the center of Moscow. Tank units had surrounded the Russian parliament, as well.

But Yeltsin soon was rallying the people of Moscow and the Russian population in general to defend Russia’s own emerging democracy. People all around the world saw Yeltsin stand atop an army tank outside the parliament building asking Muscovites to resist this attempt to return to the dark days of communist rule.

The Western media made much at the time of the apparent poor planning during the seventy-two hour coup attempt during August 19 to the 21. The world press focused on and mocked the nervousness and confusion shown by some of the coup leaders during a press conference. The conspirators were ridiculed for their Keystone Cop-like behavior in missing their chance to kidnap Yeltsin or delaying their seizure of the Russian parliament building; or leaving international telephone lines open and not even jamming foreign news broadcasts that were reporting the events as they happened to the entire Soviet Union.

The Dangers If the Hardliners had Won

Regardless of the poor planning on the part of the coup leaders, however, the fact remains that if they had succeeded the consequences might have been catastrophic. I have a photocopy of the arrest warrant form that had been prepared for the Moscow region and signed by the Moscow military commander, Marshal Kalinin.

It gave the military and the KGB, the Soviet secret police, the authority to arrest anyone. It had a “fill-in-the-blank,” where the victim’s name would be written in. Almost 500,000 of these arrest warrant forms had been prepared. In other words, upwards of a half-million people might have been imprisoned in Moscow, alone.

The day before the coup began, the KGB had received a consignment of 250,000 pairs of handcuffs. And the Russian press later reported that some of the prison camps in Siberia had been clandestinely reopened. If the coup had succeeded possibly as many as three to four million people in the Soviet Union would have been sent to the GULAG, the notorious Soviet labor camp system.

Another document published in the Russian press after the coup failed had the instructions for the military authorities in various regions around the country. They were to begin tighter surveillance of the people in the areas under their jurisdiction. They were to keep watch on the words and actions of everyone. Foreigners were to be even more carefully followed and watched. And their reports to the coup leaders in Moscow were to be filed every four hours. Indeed, when the coup was in progress, the KGB began to close down commercial joint ventures with Western companies in Moscow, accusing them of being “nests of spies,” and arrested some of the Russian participants in these enterprises.

Fear Underneath a Surreal Calm

During the coup attempt Moscow had a surrealistic quality, as I walked through various parts of the center of the city. On the streets around the city it seemed as if nothing were happening – except for the clusters of Soviet tank units strategically positioned at central intersections and at the bridges crossing the Moscow River. Taxi cabs patrolled the avenues looking for passengers; the population seemed to go about its business walking to and from work, or waiting in long lines for the meager supplies of everyday essentials at the government retail stores; and motorists were as usual also lined up at the government owned gasoline stations. Even with the clearly marked foreign license plates on my rented car, I was never stopped as I drove around the center of Moscow.

The only signs that these were extraordinary days were the grimmer than usual looks on the faces of many; and that in the food stores many people would silently huddle around radios after completing their purchases. However, the appearance of near normality could not hide the fact that the future of the country was hanging in the balance.

Russians Run the Risk for Freedom

During the three days of that fateful week, Russians of various walks of life had to ask themselves what price they put on freedom. And thousands concluded that risking their lives to prevent a return to communist despotism was price they were willing to pay. Those thousands appeared at the Russian parliament in response to Boris Yeltsin’s appeal to the people. They built makeshift barricades, and prepared to offer themselves as unarmed human shields against Soviet tanks and troops, if they had attacked. My future wife, Anna, and I were among those friends of freedom who stood vigil during most of those three days facing the barrels of Soviet tanks.

Among those thousands, three groups were most noticeable in having chosen to fight for freedom: First, young people in their teens and twenties who had been living in a freer environment during the previous six years since Gorbachev had come to power, and who did not want to live under the terror and tyranny their parents had known in the past. Second, new Russian businessmen, who realized that without a free political order the emerging economic liberties would be crushed that were enabling them to establish private enterprises. And, third, veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, who had been conscripted into the service of Soviet imperialism and were now determined to prevent its return.

The bankruptcy of the Soviet system was demonstrated not only by the courage of those thousands defending the Russian parliament, but also by the unwillingness of the Soviet military to obey the orders of the coup leaders. It is true that only a handful of military units actually went over immediately to Yeltsin’s side in Moscow.

But hundreds of Russian babushkas – grandmothers – went up to the young soldiers and officers manning the Soviet tanks, and asked them, “Are you going to shoot their mother, your father, your grandmother? We are your own people.” The final act of the coup came when these military units refused to obey orders and seize the Russian parliament building, at the possible cost of hundreds or thousands of lives.

Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!

On that clear, warm Thursday of August 22, that huge mass of humanity that had assembled in a large plaza behind the Russian parliament stood and listened as Boris Yeltsin told them that that area would now be known as the Square of Russian Freedom. The multitude replied in unison: Svoboda! Svoboda! Svoboda! – “Freedom! Freedom, Freedom!”

A huge flag of pre-communist Russia, with its colors of white, blue and red, draped the entire length of the parliament building. The crowd looked up and watched as the Soviet red flag, with its yellow hammer and sickle in the upper left corner, was lowered from the flagpole atop the parliament, and the Russian colors were raised for the first time in its place. And again the people chanted: “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”

Not too far away from the parliament building in Moscow, that same day, a large crowd had formed at Lubyanka Square at the headquarters of the KGB. With the help of a crane, these Muscovites pulled down a large statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police that stood near the entrance to the KGB building. In a small park across from the KGB headquarters, in a corner of which rests a small monument to the victims of the Soviet prison and labor camps, an anti-communist rally was held. A young man in an old Czarist Russian military uniform burned a Soviet flag, while the crowd cheered him on.

The seventy-five-year nightmare of communist tyranny and terror was coming to an end. The people of Russia were hoping for freedom, and they were basking in the imagined joy of it.

Freedom’s Hope and Post-Communist Reality

The demise of the Communist Party and the Soviet system was one of the momentous events in modern history. That it came about with a relatively small amount of bloodshed during those seventy-two hours of the hardline coup attempt was nothing short of miraculous – only a handful of people lost their lives.

The last twenty-five years have not turned out the way that many of the friends of freedom in Russia had hoped.

Indeed, post-communist Russia saw a contradictory, poorly organized, and corrupted privatization of Soviet industry, plus a high and damaging inflation in 1992-1994; a severe financial crisis in 1998; a return to authoritarian political rule following Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in 1999; two bloody and destructive wars in the attempted breakaway region of Chechnya; widespread and pervasive corruption at all levels of government; state controlled and manipulated markets, investment, commerce, and the news media; assassinations and imprisonments of political opponents of the regime; and significant nostalgia among too many in the country for a return to “great power” status and the “firm hand” of the infamous Stalinist era. Plus, Putin’s recent military adventures in Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria.

Nonetheless, for those of us who were fortunate enough to be in Moscow in August 1991, it remains in our minds as an unforgettable historical moment when the first and longest-lived of the twentieth century’s totalitarian states was brought to the doorstep of its end. The Soviet Union, finally, disappeared off the political map of the world on December 24, 1991 with the formal breakup and independence of the 15 Soviet republics that had made up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Soviet nightmare of “socialism-in-practice” was over.

Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.

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.

See the original article here.

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Taking the Low Road on Free Trade – Article by Chris Baecker

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The New Renaissance HatChris Baecker
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During the holidays, I took my daughters to my aunt and uncle’s house in Rogers, TX. Over the last few years, when not working their day jobs at Scott and White hospital in Temple, they have grown a large garden of marketable produce, devoting more than 4 acres to the operation. I sent some photos to a friend of mine who has his own backyard garden. His enthusiasm was palpable. This is a guy who once told me, “everyone should have a garden.”

Fast forward to this spring. I finally got around to buying a bookshelf. As I set about putting it together, I started thinking, “I could put together a nicer, sturdier one than this. All I’d need is some wood, sandpaper, stain/paint, braces … never mind. This one will do for now.”

I don’t have all the tools at my disposal to carry out that sort of a project, any more than I do for gardening. My interests lie elsewhere. In a free society like ours, each person is allowed to pursue their own preferred interests. Eventually, however, we do require other goods for sustenance, and leisure, so we trade with each other.

In what has been the most unpredictable and surprising election season of my lifetime, one issue that has come under unusually widespread attack is free trade.

The Opposition

Resistance to free trade has typically been found in the Democratic Party. Its union supporters fret about their jobs being “shipped overseas,” and environmentalists express concerns about trading with countries that lack “adequate” protections thereof. A few decades ago, that bloc was countered by the relatively more market-friendly Democratic Leadership Council, whose influence peaked with the election of Bill Clinton as president.

Remaining democratic opposition was joined by a couple of protesters from the center-right, H. Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan. Mr. Perot famously claimed during a 1992 presidential debate that we would hear “a giant sucking sound” of manufacturing going south to Mexico. Four years later, while seeking the Republican Party nomination for President, Mr. Buchanan campaigned on a fear of losing nationality as goods and labor move more seamlessly across borders.

Nowadays, the DLC is defunct (2011) while the spirit of Messrs. Perot and Buchanan has morphed into this election season’s wild card, Donald Trump. The similarities amongst the three are many: businessmen (Perot and Trump), populist streaks, insurgent outsiders, meticulously crafted coifs, etc. They also share a skepticism of free trade.

A few Trump talking points have jumped out at me: “we don’t make things anymore,” we’re in “imbalance (deficit) with” other countries and threatening a 45% tariff on Chinese goods.

Trade protectionism has been around for ages. Our Founding Fathers supported tariffs, which used to be a prominent source of government revenue. Alexander Hamilton even coined the “infant industry” argument, whereby the government shields from international competition new and developing industries deemed important to self-sufficiency and independence.

Trade and Trump

In trade debates of modern times, Republicans have typically argued for “free” trade, whereas “fair trade” was sought by Democrats. Mr. Trump has picked up the mantle of the latter, saying the 45% tariff is merely a threat to achieve such fairness.

I’m reminded of the interrogation scene in the movie “Starsky and Hutch” where
Ben Stiller tries to coerce some information out of a suspect … by pointing the gun at his own head. Why threaten the American consumer with price hikes? Why not, for example, allow domestic steel-input consumers to benefit from rock-bottom prices that result from Chinese overproduction? How does it make sense to protect the American steel industry with a tariff of more than 500% if employment in, and value produced by, those input consumers is greater?

The answer also happens to explain why we’re lagging behind the rest of the world in the sugar trade: concentrated benefits (domestic industry) vs. dispersed costs (artificially inflated prices for consumers). Such beneficiaries typically have more clout with policymakers than consumers do. It’s this kind of rent-seeking that prevents us from being able to take advantage of the shortcomings of a centrally-planned (though certainly less so than a couple generations ago) economy like China’s, or the fact that some countries just flat out produce something more efficiently than we do.

Ironically enough, if Mr. Trump is so concerned with illegal immigration from our south, perhaps he should first take a look at the agricultural and dairy subsidies Uncle Sam doles out that put Mexican farmers out of business and drive them north to get a piece of our artificially- inflated industry.

Moreover, when he asks “(w)ho the hell cares if there’s a trade war?” someone should remind him of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of June 1930. In an effort to protect domestic agricultural and industrial interests, President Herbert Hoover signed it into law over a petition signed by a thousand economists. Other nations retaliated and the world headed toward depression. And that was when trade was a smaller part of the global economy.

Lesson learned, after the war, the world moved toward freer trade. In that time, our real exports of goods and services rose steadily, accelerating in the mid-1980s, belying the claim that “we don’t make” stuff.

fred_graph1

As Harvard professor and former Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Greg Mankiw recently pointed out in The New York Times, manufacturing is currently at an all-time high. The problem, as it were, is that we’re doing it with less manpower.

The Effectiveness of Efficiency

That very transformation is currently underway in the energy industry. Even after the price of oil started tanking, and rigs were idled, and jobs were being eliminated, production still increased. We became more efficient. It won’t take the same quantity of capital and labor to respond to $50 oil the next time it rises to that level. The displaced resources can be redeployed to other areas of the economy.

There are undoubtedly industry shakeups in freer markets. Labor, capital, and entrepreneurs are reshuffled. But our society encourages innovation by safeguarding intellectual and property rights. That allows us to find new and better ways of doing things.

This is just the latest example of our capacity to achieve the self-sufficiency that was the goal of our first Treasury Secretary (Mr. Hamilton) when he submitted to the second Congress suggestions of “encouragement” and “protection of government” in his “Reports on Manufactures.” All the “protection” we need for the aforementioned “encouragement” is between our ears. The human capital that we’ve built up over the years doesn’t go away, but rather accumulates.

Without free trade, there might be an erosion of two of its most important exports: peace and freedom. The world has to cooperate and get along if we all want to prosper. And the freer the people, the greater the likelihood of greater prosperity. Besides, should that peace unfortunately break down again someday, the Second Amendment and our bread basket give us time to dust off and tap that know-how to rev up the necessary industries.

Counterbalancing Deficits

Nevertheless, more trade liberalization is afoot. My industry has a new market: the rest of the world, thanks to the repeal of the oil export ban last December. That’ll surely alleviate something else nearly all our leaders are prone to complain about: our trade deficit.
fred_graph2

It’s a curious thing that you rarely hear that it’s actually only half of an equation, but it is.

The balance of payments (BoP) is basically an accounting of our international transactions. The current account (trade) is the one we always hear about when it’s in deficit. Interestingly enough, it tends to trend back toward break-even only when we’re heading toward recession. It makes sense that imports rise in good times. “We’re Americans,” I tell my students, “we like to buy stuff. We like to buy stuff so much, we rent storage facilities in which to put all our extra stuff!” Regardless, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a trade deficit.

The counterbalance is the capital account. We have a big example of that in our backyard: the Toyota plant in south San Antonio. This is foreign direct investment. That plant is in the heart of truck country. It gives Toyota direct access to that market here. And, they employ highly-skilled Texans. That seems like a win-win, a sign of strength perhaps, when a foreign company wants to locate operations here.
fred_graph3

You actually contribute to the capital account when you crack open a Bud Light after feeding Purina to Scooby, who was hungry because you forgot to feed him while you were eating a Smithfield ham steak (that had been stored in a GE freezer) for dinner before going to see “X-Men: Apocalypse” at the AMC Rivercenter 11. All those companies are foreign-owned. The profit portion of the prices paid for those goods is exported to another country. Foreign entities saw value in the brand recognition of items Americans know and love. And they were able to buy those companies in part because they do more of something that we don’t: save.

When the consumer expenditure portion of the Gross Domestic Product [GDP] started climbing in the 1980s from 60% to almost 70% today, it was arguably fueled by the concurrent proliferation of the all-purpose credit card. Perhaps it goes without saying, but when you’re spending, you’re not saving. And when you’re borrowing, you are dissaving. Much of the consumer savings derived from more efficient global production of goods could go to more savings. Instead, it seems to go toward buying more stuff.
fred_graph4

When you think about it though, our incentive to save has slid right alongside available interest rates.

fred_graph5

A couple years after they were pushed way up to break the inflation of the 1970s, interest rates have been on a steady march downward: ~7-8% in 1980s, ~5% in the 1990s, half that in the 2000s, and now near 0%. Monetary policy that could be enticing us to invest in learning new skills, opening a new business, guarding against unforeseen events, etc., instead has nudged us toward $1,000,000,000,000 in both credit card and automobile debt this year. What was the current trade deficit again?

If bringing down the trade deficit is the goal, increasing domestic savings and investment is preferable to erecting trade barriers. And if curbing interest-bearing consumer indebtedness happens as well, all the better.

While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems like little more than a 21st century version of the pandering, “meaningless platitude-spouting” Kevin Fogerty from a classic episode of “Cheers,” Senator Bernie Sanders and Mr. Trump have been more consistent in their views toward free trade. But the aggressive tone they sometimes take toward it and our trading partners reminds me of when my four daughters (average age, 9) bicker with one another. Only it’s more understandable that my girls have to be taught to take the high road.

As for me, one of these days I could take up woodworking, or gardening, or some other hobby/trade that produces tangible output. Right now though, my spare time is best served educating. It’s what I like to do. It’s where I feel most productive. And given this season’s crop of presidential aspirants, there seems to be a need for it.


Chris Baecker

Christopher E. Baecker manages fixed assets for Pioneer Energy Services and is an adjunct lecturer of economics at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio.  He can be reached via www.chrisbaecker.com, @chrisbaecker71 & LinkedIn.com

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

 

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