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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jews As the Enemies of the Enemies of Liberty – Article by Steven Horwitz

Jews As the Enemies of the Enemies of Liberty – Article by Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance HatSteven Horwitz
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Anti-Semitism, it’s often said, is the oldest prejudice. The hatred of Jews has waxed and waned over the centuries, but appears to be back with something of a vengeance over the last few years, and especially the last few months.

For example, on Monday, February 27, over two dozen Jewish institutions across the country received bomb threats by anonymous phone calls. These included Jewish Community Centers, synagogues, retirement homes, day care centers, and Jewish educational institutions. These threats are part of a pattern of such threats, including multiple cemetery desecrations, that has been ongoing over the last few months. There have been 100 such threats to Jewish institutions just since the beginning of 2017.

Every time such a threat is called in, these institutions have to clear the building to determine if it is just a hoax. This means rounding up children, infants, the elderly, the infirm, and the developmentally disabled, getting them out of the building and, often, out in the cold, for the hour or two it takes to confirm all is clear. Although, thankfully, these have all turned out to be hoaxes, they still are taking a real toll on the Jewish community and the non-Jews who make use of these institutions. They are, I would argue, a form of terrorism.

The Why of Anti-Semitism

There has been much debate over why these threats have increased in recent months, and it seems plausible that the increased brazenness of the “politically incorrect,” including the rise of the alt-right, in the wake of the Trump campaign is probably one key factor. But anti-Semitism is not solely a problem on the Right. The political Left has had its own history of hatred for Jews, manifested in the present by the increased anti-Semitism of the radical Left in the context of criticism of Israel, especially through the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The sources of anti-Semitism on both Right and Left are complicated, but one element on both sides is that Jews have historically been associated with important liberal ideas such as capitalism, entrepreneurship, cosmopolitanism, and free migration. These institutions have enabled massive social, cultural, and economic change, empowering the previously powerless all over the world, and threatening the old order.

The enemies of liberalism have problems with all of these, though the Right and Left differ on which bothers them the most. But for both, Jews can be easily seen as the enemies of those who find deep flaws with the classical liberal social order. When Jews are being threatened, it is usually a good sign that the foundations of liberalism are as well.

Jewish Anti-Capitalism

One point to note up front is that Jews themselves have a history of opposition to classical liberalism. Jewish intellectuals have had a long-standing attraction to socialism, starting of course with Marx himself. In particular, a number of the architects of the Russian Revolution were Jews or of Jewish heritage.

I raise this because I am not arguing that Jews were somehow reliably classically liberal over the last few centuries. And the fact that a good number of Jews were socialist, or that a good number of socialists were Jews, certainly doesn’t justify anti-Semitism by critics of socialism.

I do think that part of the attraction of socialism to Jews was its universalist aspiration in the form of the trans-national cosmopolitan vision of classical socialism along with its desire to “heal the world” and its strong ethic of concern for the least well-off. Those aspirations were shared by 19th-century classical liberals and were also part of Jewish practice. This universalism made Jews the target of the critics of classical liberalism from the Right, as well as the right-wing critics of socialism.

Jewish Pro-Capitalism

The association of Jews with capitalism, trade, and entrepreneurship is well known. The negative stereotypes of acquisitiveness, materialism, and selfishness that have long been part of anti-Semitism grew out of the truth that Jews were more likely to be traders and financiers than were other groups. Part of this was that as a nomadic people, Jews invested in their human capital rather than the physical capital they would have had to schlep around while getting kicked out of country after country.

(This might also explain why Jews have also been disproportionately entertainers and intellectuals. The skills for telling jokes, writing stories, making music, or working in the realm of ideas are ones that don’t require much in the way of physical capital in order to be successful.)

Jews were also often middlemen as a result of their nomadic existence and familiarity with so many parts of the world. Middlemen have always been suspect to the economically ignorant as far back as Aristotle, as they appear to profit by creating nothing tangible. This is particularly true when the middlemen are in financial markets, where they are not even trading something physical.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that hatred of capitalism has been accompanied by hatred of the Jews

Right-wing anti-Semitism, however, often draws upon these capitalist tropes as part of its hatred. But in this context, Jews are not so much seen as representative of capitalist exploitation that can be ended by socialism, but rather as an example of people who place love of money and their universalist aspirations above the love of their country and its citizens.

German anti-Semitism in the 20th century had roots in the argument that Jews had been “war profiteers” in World War I and had benefitted from the economic destruction that characterized the Weimar Republic period leading up to Hitler’s ascension to power. The Nazis, and other fascist movements, saw the Jews as the sort of rootless cosmopolitans who were unable to grasp the importance of blood and soil.

The modern version of this point, and one that is also found on the Left, is the “dual loyalty” charge laid upon pro-Israel Jews: they are beholden to Israel in ways that cause them to work against the interests of the United States.

The Why of Nationalism

One way to see the “national socialism” of various fascist movements is that they objected not to socialism per se, but to socialism’s attempt to put class ahead of race or ethnicity or nationality. To the fascists, German or Italian workers shared much more with German or Italian capitalists than they did with Russian or American workers. Marxian socialism drew the wrong battle lines.

And so it is today, as “economic nationalism” is on the rise globally and Jews have again become the most obvious target for an invigorated Right. Jews have always been the symbol of the cosmopolitan, the migrant, and the “rootless” trader. If you reject market-driven globalization, whether because you dislike markets or because you are a nationalist, you are going to have reasons to see Jews as symbols of what you reject. That opposition to immigration and global trade, and the market system that is at the root of both, would go hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism is hardly surprising.

The economic nationalism of Trump and a variety of European leaders is not inherently anti-Semitic, nor does it require that the leaders of such movements be anti-Semites, but the arguments of economic nationalism can easily empower the anti-Semitism of both the Right and Left. The leaders build in plausible deniability, knowing full well the nature of the forces they are unleashing but in ways that avoid direct responsibility.

How could they not know? We have centuries of experience to draw on, back to the ancient world through the Middle Ages all the way to the ghastly slaughter of the 20th century during which anti-Semitism nearly destroyed the whole of Europe itself. The costs have been unspeakable, and hence the vow to never forget. And yet, despite this history, the tendency to forget remains. To remember would require that we think more clearly about ideology and philosophy, human rights and dignity. Many people do not want to do that. It remains easier to scapegoat than to remember.

Admittedly, we liberals have a special grudge against anti-Semitism. It broke up the greatest intellectual society of the 20th century, shattering Viennese intellectual life, flinging even Ludwig von Mises out of his home and into the abyss. His books were banned, and those of many others too. He and so many fled for their lives but bravely rebuilt them in the new world that offered protection.

A Warning Sign

It has been said that Jews are the canaries in the coal mine of a liberal society: when they are under threat, it is a warning sign. The ongoing and increasing threats to Jewish communities here in the US, as well as similar trends across Europe, should have all of us worried. A world where Jews sing out in joy together and are unafraid to fly free is one far more safe from tyranny than one in which we Jews worry about dying in our own cages, as many of us are doing as the threats to our institutions have become more frequent and more brazen in recent months.

Watch how a society treats Jews and you’ll have an indicator of its degree of openness and respect for liberty. When Jews are being threatened, so are the deepest of our liberal values. The poisonous air from coal mining that killed canaries was invisible. The threats to Jews and to liberalism are not. Citizens of liberal societies dismiss or downplay those threats at our own peril.

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions. He is spending the 2016-17 academic year as a Visiting Scholar at the John H. Schnatter Institute for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise at Ball State University.

He 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. Read the original article.

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

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

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

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

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

She writes:

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

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

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

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

Do Not Talk about Beyoncé’s Lemonade!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Against Freedom of Speech Today?

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

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

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

The True Meaning of Liberal

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

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

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

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

Or we might just say, reappropriate it.

Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker

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

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

Canadians Confused by the Correct Use of the Term “Liberal” – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Canadians Confused by the Correct Use of the Term “Liberal” – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey Tucker
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The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been following the political upheavals in the US with some curiosity. In light of this piece, they called me to discuss where the Republican ticket is representing capitalism well. In the course of the interview, I described myself as a fan of commercial society, free enterprise, deregulation, and therefore a classical liberal. I said later that I’m a radical liberal.

Much to the amazement of the producers, it was this section of the interview (which was heard by more than a million people) that caused the biggest response. They were flooded with comments of confusion. Why does this guy call himself a liberal?

The producers were intrigued enough to do an entire segment on the topic, the results of which were interesting and substantial. Of course the topic is complex because the meaning of the word has changed so much in the last 100 years. The corruption of the term became so intense following World War II that the leftover liberals had to change their name to libertarians.

And today matters are in flux. In Eastern Europe and large parts of Latin America, the term is used correctly. In Europe, it is a mix. In the UK, the word liberal is coming back as a description of people who celebrate commercial society, favor peace, support civil liberties, and reject big government. In the US, the term has been left on the table, but is still mostly associated with the opposite of its traditional meaning.

The result of the CBC’s investigative efforts are as follows.

On last week’s episode of The 180, we spoke with Jeffrey Tucker, a self-described ‘classical liberal.’ He argued Donald Trump is giving capitalism a bad name, by presenting himself as a titan of industry, when he’s really more of an entertainer.

After that interview, we received notes from people questioning Tucker’s bona-fides as a ‘liberal,’ since he spoke highly of individual liberties, free markets, and limited government. Some said Tucker was clearly a ‘neo-liberal,’ some said he was a ‘large R conservative,’ presumably meaning Republican, while others thought the term ‘classical liberal’ had plenty of negative connotations all on its own.

So what is a classical liberal?

First off, you should totally click the play button on this page to hear the audio explainer. It’s got all kinds of fun music and clips of people using the word ‘liberal’ in weird and hilarious ways. Like when Rush Limbaugh said the Soviet Union and Cuba and China were run by ‘liberals.’ Weird.

Part of the problem with the word ‘liberal’ is it’s used differently across time, and across countries. In Canada, the word mostly means a supporter of the Liberal Party, or someone in the political middle. In the United States, it means a strong social progressive, and in some circles can mean a socialist or a communist. In Europe it’s associated with internationalism and free migration. In Australia, in the words of Australian Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull, it means the primacy of “freedom, the individual, and the market.” 

That last one, the Australian definition, is probably closest to what political scientists consider a classical liberal view.

John Locke

If you want to get what classical liberalism is, and where liberalism as an ideology comes from, you gotta know about this guy, John Locke. 

Locke was an English philosopher who lived in the 17th century, and one of the most important people in the development of liberalism, both classical and modern, according to Barbara Arneil, Professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbia.

“In essence what he introduced to the political lexicon was the idea of individual rights. He said individuals have rights by nature, and if the government does not serve those rights, then the people could get together and reject the government. So in essence, this idea of individuals and their rights begins the notion that the government is answerable to individual people.”

This was still a time of kings and emperors and lords and barons, so Locke’s ideas were rather significant. And these liberal ideas influenced a good deal of western society, including the founding documents of the United States of America.

“Thomas Jefferson drew a lot of his philosophy from John Locke. He saw him as the greatest political thinker. So there’s a lot of Locke in the American Declaration of Independence. On the economic side, Locke was also somebody who developed the idea of the right to private property. So we have both the political and economic repercussions and we see them right around the world. All the bills of rights, really originate with Locke’s original idea.” 

So if someone says they’re a classical liberal as opposed to modern liberal, they’re probably more in line with Locke’s original sentiments.

Times change, so do words, and so do ideas

At some point, liberalism shifted from its emphasis on individual liberties, to include regulating business, and using the government to support individuals, rather than simply leaving them alone. According to Lee Ward, Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Regina, the shift is part of the industrial revolution throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

“The term liberalism takes on a new kind of meaning, politically. Sometimes called ‘welfare liberalism. At that point, liberalism is accommodating the new demands produced by industrialization. So classical liberals in the 17th century were talking about an economy that was very rudimentary compared to what we have today. A bank in the 17th century doesn’t mean the same thing as a bank in the 20th century. So by the time you get to the 20th century, liberalism has changed.”

To Barbara Arneil at UBC, it’s not simply that the definition of liberalism changed, it’s that over time, some people changed their conception of ‘freedom’. Whereas classical liberals think of liberty as being free from interference, modern liberalism considers whether the government can support people in society to freely pursue their goals.

“I think the thread that remains throughout all liberal thought is the idea of the individual and their freedom. So initially, freedom is understood as being free of restraints. But now we have a different definition of freedom, and it’s about  having the necessary supports to have freedom that has any meaning.”

The concepts of liberalism, both classical and modern, are political philosophies and ideologies not specific political affiliations, and these concepts, among others, influence parties across the Canadian spectrum.

Labels and insults

In the United States, ‘liberal’ is often used as an epithet. To some degree, the terms ‘neo-liberal’ or ‘social conservative’ or ‘socialist’ are also used as negative descriptors in Canada. 

To Ward, it’s not particularly helpful to use philosophical terminology as a pejorative, or to try and sum up a person’s character or values with a snippy line about liberals, conservatives, socialists, or anarchists.

“I worry that sometimes we throw out terminology as weapons, as rhetorical jabs. Understand that behind all of the different perspectives and ideologies, there’s some claim to justice there. And even if I disagree in large measure with much of what’s being said, there’s is some truth that is being expressed. There’s something good in it. As good as it is to be engaged in politics and to really care about what’s happening, it’s also good to step back sometimes and to understand that when we use terms like conservative, liberal, progressive, socialist, they’re all reflecting a certain claim to justice, and there’s probably something in each of those that we can agree with.”

According to Ward, if we could understand that behind all the terms we throw around to describe people, there is a rich intellectual history, we could have more respectful and constructive political debate.

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.

How Viennese Culture Shaped Austrian Economics – Article by Erwin Dekker

How Viennese Culture Shaped Austrian Economics – Article by Erwin Dekker

The New Renaissance HatErwin Dekker
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Schools of thought are frequently named after their country or place of origin. The Chicago School, the Frankfurt School, and the Scottish Enlightenment are just some of the many examples. The geographical place is a simple shorthand for something that would otherwise be difficult to specify and name. That is also the case for the Austrian School of Economics. Or at least that is what we commonly believe. Austrian is nothing more than a shorthand for a school of economics that focuses on market process rather than outcomes, emphasizes the subjective aspects of economic behavior, and is critical of attempts to plan or regulate economic processes. Sure it originated in Austria, but it is largely neglected there today, and currently the school lives on in some notable economics departments, research centers, and think tanks in the United States. The whole ‘Austrian’ label is thus largely a misnomer, a birthplace, but nothing else.

But what if Austrian, or more specifically Viennese, culture is essential to understanding what makes this school of thought different? What if the coffeehouse culture of the Viennese circles, the decline of the Habsburg Empire, the failure of Austrian liberalism, the rise of socialism and fascism, and the ironic distance at which the Viennese observed the world, are all essential to understanding what the school was about? It would be exciting to discover that the Vienna of Gustav Mahler, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt, and Adolf Loos, would also be the Vienna of Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek. And if that is so, how would that change how we think about this school and about the importance of cultural contexts for schools of thoughts more generally?

That is the subject of my recent book The Viennese Students of Civilization (Cambridge University Press, 2016). It demonstrates that the literature, art, and cultural atmosphere are all essential ingredients of Austrian economics. The Viennese circles, of which the most famous was the Vienna Circle or Wiener Kreis, are the place where this type of economics was practiced and in which it came to maturity in the interwar period.

The hands-off attitude first practiced at the Viennese Medical School, where it was called therapeutic skepticism, spread among intellectuals. They dissected a culture which was coming to an end, without seemingly worrying too much about it. As one commentator wrote about this attitude “nowhere is found more resignation and nowhere less self-pity.”¹ One American proponent of the Viennese medical approach even called it the ‘laissez-faire’ approach to medicine.² The therapeutic skepticism, or nihilism as the critics called it, bears strong resemblance to the Austrian school’s skepticism of the economic cures propounded by the government. Some of the Austrian economists, for instance, have the same ironic distance, in which the coming of socialism is lamented, but at the same time considered inevitable. That sentiment is strongest in Joseph Schumpeter. But one can also find it in Ludwig von Mises, especially in his more pessimistic writings. In 1920, for example, he writes: “It may be that despite everything we cannot escape socialism, yet whoever considers it an evil must not wish it onward for that reason.”³

That same resignation, however, is put to the test in the 1930’s when Red Vienna, the nickname the city was given when it was governed by the Austro-Marxists, becomes Black Vienna, the nickname it was given under fascism. The rise of fascism posed an even greater threat to the values of the liberal bourgeois, and at the same time it demonstrated that socialism might not be inevitable after all. One of my book’s major themes is the transformation from the resigned, and at times fatalistic, study of the transformation of the older generation, to the more activist and combatant attitude of the younger generation. Friedrich Hayek, Karl Popper, Peter Drucker as well as important intellectual currents in Vienna start to oppose, and defend the Habsburg civilization from its enemies. That is one of the messages of Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents, of Hermann Broch’s novel The Death of Virgil, of Malinowski’s Civilization and Freedom, of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, Drucker’s The End of Economic Man, and of course Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies. It is also the message of the most famous book of the period on civilization The Civilizing Process by the German sociologist Norbert Elias. These intellectuals fight the fatalism and the acceptance of decline, and instead start to act as custodians or defenders of civilization.

In the process the relationship between natural instincts, rational thought, and civilization undergoes a major transformation. Civilization — our moral habits, customs, traditions, and ways of living together — is no longer believed to be a natural process or a product of our modern rational society. Rather, it is a cultural achievement in need of cultivation and at times protection. Civilization is a shared good, a commons, which can only be sustained in a liberal culture, and even there individuals will feel the ‘strain of civilization’ as Popper put it. That is the strain of being challenged, of encountering those of different cultures, and of carrying the responsibility for our own actions. Hayek adds the strain of accepting traditions and customs which we do not fully understand (including the traditions and customs of the market). Similar arguments are made by Freud and Elias.

If that is their central concern then the importance and meaning of their contributions is much broader than economics in any narrow sense. That concern is the study, cultivation and, when necessary, protection of their civilization.

To some this might diminish the contributions of the Austrian school of economics for they might feel that they were responding to a particular Viennese experience. The respected historian Tony Judt for example has claimed that: “the Austrian experience has been elevated to the status of economic theory [and has] come to inform not just the Chicago school of economics but all significant public conversation over policy choices in the contemporary United States.”⁴ He maximizes the distance between us and them, saying that they were immigrants and foreigners with a different experience than ours. But that response only makes sense if the alternative is some disembodied truth, outside of historical experience.

My book, to the contrary, argues that what is valuable, interesting, and of lasting value in the Austrian school is precisely its involved, engaged approach in which economics is one way of reflecting on the times. And those times might be more similar to ours than you might think, as the great sociologist Peter Berger has argued. Troubled by mass migration, Vienna experienced populist politics. The emancipation of new groups lead to new political movements which challenged the existing rational way of doing politics. A notion of liberal progress which had seemed so natural during the nineteenth century could no longer be taken for granted in fin-de-siècle and interwar Vienna. That foreign experience, might not be so foreign after all.

Viennese-Students-Civ

For more information on my book, The Viennese Students of Civilization: The Meaning and Context of Austrian Economics Reconsidered, click here.


Erwin Dekker is a postdoctoral fellow for the F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He is assistant professor in cultural economics at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.


References

1. Edward Crankshaw. (1938). Vienna: The Image of a Culture in Decline, p. 48.
2. Maurice D. Clarke. (1888). “Therapeutic Nihilism.” Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 119 (9), p. 199.
3. Ludwig von Mises. (1920). Nation, State, and Economy. p. 217.
4. Tony Judt. (2010). Ill Fares The Land. p. 97–98.

Brazil’s Lost Decade: We Must Free Our Economy – Article by Felipe Capella

Brazil’s Lost Decade: We Must Free Our Economy – Article by Felipe Capella

The New Renaissance HatFelipe Capella
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It was a lost decade for Latin America. Years of populist governments combined with a commodity boom turned out to be our oil curse, our Dutch Disease. This disastrous mix made bad public policies look like temporary successes, pushing developing countries to an unsustainable path. The collectivist ideology monopolized the debate for more than 10 years, and now that the natural resource party is over, the harm of these policies have become clearer: deep economic crisis generated by a utopia whose greatest achievement was turning toilet paper into a rare-earth product.

Populist and authoritarian South American regimes have set up government bureaucracies aimed at pleasing special interest groups that provide political support while tirelessly harming the population as a whole. These groups are divided into several small groups with special rights and privileges: judges, civil servants, members of parliament, friendly businessmen. These factions are getting their more-than-fair share while the unprivileged citizen foots the bill.

Latin American politicians played it very well during these favorable times. Cronyism and populism greatly benefited some chosen groups, while the harms were diffused enough throughout the whole country and difficult to measure during favorable economic winds. Brazil is just the biggest and clearest example of that.

How We Got Here 

For many years Brazil’s road to serfdom was being paved by the left through a combination of the world’s worst ideas: a Venezuelan-like project to subordinate decisions of the Supreme Court to the ratification of Congress; an Ecuadorian will to regulate and control the free press; a Russian compassion for cronies handpicked by the executive; Greek style benefits for public servants; Southern European pension costs (for a much younger population); Argentinean barriers for international trade, and an American/EU taste for subsidies.

The former — and now failed — cherry-picked billionaire darling of the regime Eike Batista was showered with tax funds while ordinary entrepreneurs lacked governmental support; friendly national industries were heavily protected, while people were taxed up to 50 percent on food and health supplies. Oi Telecom, a multibillion dollar mobile company, is just the most recent example of Lula’s national-champion policy (the company has just filed for bankruptcy, with 17 percent of its debt held by state-owned banks).

That was the result of 10 years of left-populist government in Brazil, all of them enjoying the applause of the international press. For years The New York Times constantly published articles with a pro-Dilma/Lula tone. Right after Dilma’s reelection — which is now known to have been funded by money siphoned from state-owned companies — The NYT published a piece half-mocking 48 percent of voters that were concerned about Dilma’s economic and political approaches.

The good thing about bad journalism is that reality eventually catches up with it. Since that 2014 article, Dilma has since lost her job and is about to be impeached for illegal budgetary schemes and deep corruption. Her top aides are all in jail or about to be thrown there, accused of stealing dozens of billions of dollars, including former Ministers and three former treasurers of her Labor Party (which some people now deem to be the most dangerous job in the world). Brazil is in its worst economic crisis since the 1930s, which has been worsening since 2014 (while Dilma was coming up with her now-famous accounting tricks to fool the Brazilian voters). Lula had even become a frequent contributor of The Times after his presidency, but now faces criminal charges and has seen the federal police knock on his door with a coercive trip to the criminal courts.

In its recent opinion page about the failed Rio Olympic Games preparation, The NYT’s favorite Brazilian correspondent Vanessa Barbara wrote that “political turmoil has paralyzed the country and frozen the economy.” This rhetoric of blaming “political turmoil” for Latin American calamities does not help to set the record straight. The problems with the Olympic games stem directly from Dilma’s and Lula’s incompetence and corruption. But the problem also lies on media vehicles like The Times, always ready to turn a blind eye to mismanagement and corruption in the name of ideology.

So here we are. Brazil is a failing state after a decade of populist presidents, misguided policies and commodity boom, all under the auspices of the progressive press.

The Need for Laissez-Faire Liberalism

For a long time, Brazil has been a place where liberalism (i.e., the ideology of freedom and free markets) was mostly marginalized, despite its positive track-record. In the minds of most Brazilians, being liberal was conspiring for the wealthy, being socialist is taking care of the poor.

But if The Times does not want to recognize its mistakes, apparently the Brazilian population is more willing to deal with self-criticism. There is now a strong resurgence of liberalism throughout the country.

Partido Novo (“New Party”) is a new political party created with a clear liberal approach to the economy, and it is just one of the recent examples of how liberalism is growing in the country, waking up millions of Brazilians who were orphans of a liberal political leadership. Many creative and hardworking people that do not think that socialism (or heavy-handed South American social democracy) will make our countries more prosperous. There are substantial constituencies that want public policies driven by research, metrics and actual public interest.

Free Trade Is the Key

The European Union has no appetite and no urgency to negotiate any comprehensive trade agreement with Mercosur or other Latin American countries. The United States faces a choice between a populist protectionist and a trade-dubious democrat (to put it mildly).

It is essential for the world that someone — anyone — pushes forward the liberal pro-trade agenda. As we natives well know, it is never wise to bet on Brazil as a global force for good. But maybe — just maybe — because we are suffering first-hand the harms of a decade of interventionist, protectionist, and corrupted government, we can somehow understand that populism is an illusory lucky charm that actually curses a country for years to come; and maybe — just maybe — we can do something to redeem ourselves.

Now that international trade seems under constant attack from all places and political spectrums, and no big world economy wants to step up and bluntly defend the liberal track record — including the United States — maybe Brazil could become the champion of good policy at last, pushing for reforms throughout Latin America and holding the liberal torch high in these dark times.

As Roberto Campos advised decades ago, for us Brazilians there are only three ways out of the current mess: Rio’s airport, Sao Paulo’s airport, and Liberalism.

Felipe Capella is an attorney turned entrepreneur. He is a former law professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (Brazil), former attorney at Sullivan & Cromwell (New York) and the Inter-American Development Bank (Washington, DC), has Master degrees from UPenn/Wharton and Universidad Francisco de Vitoria (Spain), and holds an MBA from FGV (Brazil).

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Donald Trump and Obi-Wan’s Gambit – Article by Daniel Bier

Donald Trump and Obi-Wan’s Gambit – Article by Daniel Bier

The New Renaissance HatDaniel Bier

You Cannot Win By Losing

In Star Wars: A New Hope, the last Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is confronted by his former pupil, Darth Vader, as he races to escape the Death Star. The two draw their lightsabers and pace warily around each other. After deflecting some heavy blows from Vader, Obi-Wan’s lightsaber flickers, and he appears tired and strained.

Vader gloats, “Your powers are weak, old man.”

The hard-put Obi-Wan replies, “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Obi-Wan backs away from Vader but finds his escape cut off by storm troopers. He is trapped. He gives a mysterious smile, raises his lightsaber, and allows Vader to cut him in half.

This is Obi-Wan’s gambit, or the “win by losing” strategy. Lately, it has emerged as a distinct genre of commentary about Donald Trump.

Take, for example, “The Article About Trump That Nobody Will Publish,” which promotes itself as having been rejected by 45 publications. That’s a credit to America’s editors, because the article is an industrial strength brew of wishful thinking, a flavor that is already becoming standard fare as a Trump presidency looms.

The authors give a boilerplate denunciation of Trump (he’s monstrous, authoritarian, unqualified, etc.), but then propose:

What would happen should Trump get elected? On the Right, President Trump would force the GOP to completely reorganize — and fast. It would compel them to abandon their devastating pitch to the extreme right. …

On the Left, the existence of the greatest impossible dread imaginable, of President Trump, would rouse sleepy mainline liberals from their dogmatic slumber. It would force them to turn sharply away from the excesses of its screeching, reality-denying, uncompromising and authoritarian fringe that provided much of Trump’s thrust in the first place.

Our daring contrarians predict, Trump “may actually represent an unpalatable but real chance at destroying these two political cancers of our time and thus remedying our insanity-inflicted democracy.”

You can’t win, Donald! Strike me down and I shall be… forced to completely reorganize and/or roused from dogmatic slumber!

The authors assert these claims as though they were self-evident, but they’re totally baffling. Why would a Trump win force the GOP to abandon the voters and rhetoric that drove it to victory? Why would it reorganize against its successful new leader? Why would a Hillary Clinton loss empower moderate liberals over the “reality-defying fringe”? Why would the left turn away from the progressives who warned against nominating her all along?

This is pure, unadulterated wishful thinking. There is no reason to believe these rosy forecasts would materialize under President Trump. That is not how partisan politics tends to work. Parties rally to their nominee, and electoral success translates into influence, influence into power, power into friends and support.

We’ve already seen one iteration of this “win by losing” fantasy come and go among the Never Trump crowd: the idea that Trump’s mere nomination would be a good thing, because (depending on your politics) it would (1) compel Democrats to nominate Bernie Sanders, (2) propel Clinton to a landslide general election victory, or (3) destroy the GOP and (a) force it to rebuild as a small-government party, (b) split it in two, or (c) bring down the two-party system.

But, of course, none of those things happened. Clinton has clinched the nomination over Sanders (his frantic protests notwithstanding). Meanwhile, Clinton’s double digit lead over Trump has evaporated, and the race has narrowed to a virtual tie. Far from “destroying the GOP,” Trump has consolidated the support of the base and racked up the endorsements of dozens of prominent Republicans who had previously blasted him, including Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan.

The GOP is not being destroyed — it is being gradually remade in Trump’s image, perhaps into his dream of a populist “workers’ party,” heavy on the protectionism, nativism, and authoritarianism. Meanwhile, knee-jerk partisanship and fear of Clinton are reconciling the center-right to Trump.

Moderates win by defeating the fringe, not by losing to it. Yet, for some reason, conservatives, liberals, and libertarians all like to fantasize that the worst case scenario would actually fulfill their fondest wishes, driving the nation into their losing arms — as though their failure would force the party or the public do what they wanted all along. This is the bad-breakup theory of politics: Once they get a taste of Trump, they’ll realize how great we were and love us again.

But the public doesn’t love losers. (Trump gets this and has based his whole campaign around his relentless self-promotion as a winner.) Trump’s inauguration would indeed be a victory for him and for his “alt-right” personality cult, and a sign of defeat for limited-government conservatives and classical liberals — not because our ideology was on the ballot, but because all our efforts did not prevent such a ballot.

Trump embodies an ideology that is anathema to classical liberalism, and if he is successful at propelling it into power, we cannot and should not see it as anything less than a failure to persuade the public on the value of liberty, tolerance, and limited government. Nobody who is worried about extreme nationalism and strong man politics should be taken in by the idea that their rapid advance somehow secretly proves their weakness and liberalism’s strength.

This does not mean that we’re all screwed, or that a Trump administration will be the end of the world — apocalyptic thinking is just another kind of dark fantasy. As horrible as Trumpism may be, it cannot succeed without help. And here’s the good news: Most Americans aren’t really enamored with Trump’s policies. The bad news is that they could still become policy.

Classical liberals who oppose Trump should realize that things aren’t going to magically get better on their own. We cannot try to Obi-Wan our way out of this. We will have to actually make progress — in education, academia, journalism, policy, activism, and, yes, even electoral politics.

If this seems like an impossible task at the moment, just remember that the long-sweep of history and many trends in recent decades show the public moving in a more libertarian direction. It can be done, and there’s fertile ground for it. We have to make the argument for tolerance and freedom against xenophobia and authoritarianism — and we have to win it. The triumph of illiberalism will not win it for us.

Daniel Bier is the site editor of FEE.org He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

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.

Thomas Carlyle: The Founding Father of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Thomas Carlyle: The Founding Father of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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Thomas Carlyle fits the bill in every respect

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Have you heard of the “great man” theory of history?

The meaning is obvious from the words. The idea is that history moves in epochal shifts under the leadership of visionary, bold, often ruthless men who marshal the energy of masses of people to push events in radical new directions. Nothing is the same after them.

In their absence, nothing happens that is notable enough to qualify as history: no heroes, no god-like figures who qualify as “great.” In this view, we need such men.  If they do not exist, we create them. They give us purpose. They define the meaning of life. They drive history forward.

Great men, in this view, do not actually have to be fabulous people in their private lives. They need not exercise personal virtue. They need not even be moral. They only need to be perceived as such by the masses, and play this role in the trajectory of history.

Such a view of history shaped much of historiography as it was penned in the late 19th century and early 20th century, until the revisionists of the last several decades saw the error and turned instead to celebrate private life and the achievements of common folk instead. Today the “great man” theory history is dead as regards academic history, and rightly so.

Carlyle the Proto-Fascist

Thomas_CarlyleThe originator of the great man theory of history is British philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), one of the most revered thinkers of his day. He also coined the expression “dismal science” to describe the economics of his time. The economists of the day, against whom he constantly inveighed, were almost universally champions of the free market, free trade, and human rights.

His seminal work on “great men” is On Heroes,  Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1840). This book was written to distill his entire worldview.

Considering Carlyle’s immense place in the history of 19th century intellectual life, this is a surprisingly nutty book. It can clearly be seen as paving the way for the monster dictators of the 20th century. Reading his description of “great men” literally, there is no sense in which Mao, Stalin, and Hitler — or any savage dictator from any country you can name — would not qualify.

Indeed, a good case can be made that Carlyle was the forefather of fascism. He made his appearance in the midst of the age of laissez faire, a time when the UK and the US had already demonstrated the merit of allowing society to take its own course, undirected from the top down. In these times, kings and despots were exercising ever less control and markets ever more. Slavery was on its way out. Women obtained rights equal to men. Class mobility was becoming the norm, as were long lives, universal opportunity, and material progress.

Carlyle would have none of it. He longed for a different age. His literary output was devoted to decrying the rise of equality as a norm and calling for the restoration of a ruling class that would exercise firm and uncontested power for its own sake. In his view, some were meant to rule and others to follow. Society must be organized hierarchically lest his ideal of greatness would never again be realized. He set himself up as the prophet of despotism and the opponent of everything that was then called liberal.

Right Authoritarianism of the 19th Century

Carlyle was not a socialist in an ideological sense. He cared nothing for the common ownership of the means of production. Creating an ideologically driven social ideal did not interest him at all. His writings appeared and circulated alongside those of Karl Marx and his contemporaries, but he was not drawn to them.

Rather than an early “leftist,” he was a consistent proponent of power and a raving opponent of classical liberalism, particularly of the legacies of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. If you have the slightest leanings toward liberty, or affections for the impersonal forces of markets, his writings come across as ludicrous. His interest was in power as the central organizing principle of society.

Here is his description of the “great men” of the past:

“They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history….

One comfort is, that Great Men, taken up in any way, are profitable company. We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness;—in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them. … Could we see them well, we should get some glimpses into the very marrow of the world’s history. How happy, could I but, in any measure, in such times as these, make manifest to you the meanings of Heroism; the divine relation (for I may well call it such) which in all times unites a Great Man to other men…

Carlyle established himself as the arch-opponent of liberalism — heaping an unrelenting and seething disdain on Smith and his disciples.And so on it goes for hundreds of pages that celebrate “great” events such as the Reign of Terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution (one of the worst holocausts then experienced). Wars, revolutions, upheavals, invasions, and mass collective action, in his view, were the essence of life itself. The merchantcraft of the industrial revolution, the devolution of power, the small lives of the bourgeoisie all struck him as noneventful and essentially irrelevant. These marginal improvements in the social sphere were made by the “silent people” who don’t make headlines and therefore don’t matter much; they are essential at some level but inconsequential in the sweep of things.

To Carlyle, nothing was sillier than Adam Smith’s pin factory: all those regular people intricately organized by impersonal forces to make something practical to improve people’s lives. Why should society’s productive capacity be devoted to making pins instead of making war? Where is the romance in that?

Carlyle established himself as the arch-opponent of liberalism — heaping an unrelenting and seething disdain on Smith and his disciples. And what should replace liberalism? What ideology? It didn’t matter, so long as it embodied Carlyle’s definition of “greatness.”

No Greatness Like the Nation-State

Of course there is no greatness to compare with that of the head of the nation-state.

“The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men. He is practically the summary for us of all the various figures of Heroism; Priest, Teacher, whatsoever of earthly or of spiritual dignity we can fancy to reside in a man, embodies itself here, to command over us, to furnish us with constant practical teaching, to tell us for the day and hour what we are to do.”

Why the nation-state? Because within the nation-state, all that is otherwise considered immoral, illegal, unseemly, and ghastly, can become, as blessed by the law, part of policy, civic virtue, and the forward motion of history. The leader of the nation-state baptizes rampant immorality with the holy water of consensus. And thus does Napoleon come in for high praise from Carlyle, in addition to the tribal chieftains of Nordic mythology. The point is not what the “great man” does with his power so much as that he exercises it decisively, authoritatively, ruthlessly.

The exercise of such power necessarily requires the primacy of the nation-state, and hence the protectionist and nativist impulses of the fascist mindset.

Consider the times in which Carlyle wrote. Power was on the wane, and humankind was in the process of discovering something absolutely remarkable: namely, the less society is controlled from the top, the more the people thrive in their private endeavors. Society needs no management but rather contains within itself the capacity for self organization, not through the exercise of the human will as such, but by having the right institutions in place. Such was the idea of liberalism.

Liberalism was always counterintuitive. The less society is ordered, the more order emerges from the ground up. The freer people are permitted to be, the happier the people become and the more meaning they find in the course of life itself. The less power that is given to the ruling class, the more wealth is created and dispersed among everyone. The less a nation is directed by conscious design, the more it can provide a model of genuine greatness.

Such teachings emerged from the liberal revolution of the previous two centuries. But some people (mostly academics and would-be rulers) weren’t having it. On the one hand, the socialists would not tolerate what they perceived to be the seeming inequality of the emergent commercial society. On the other hand, the advocates of old-fashioned ruling-class control, such as Carlyle and his proto-fascist contemporaries, longed for a restoration of pre-modern despotism, and devoted their writings to extolling a time before the ideal of universal freedom appeared in the world.

The Dismal Science

One of the noblest achievements of the liberal revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries — in addition to the idea of free trade — was the movement against slavery and its eventual abolition. It should not surprise anyone that Carlyle was a leading opponent of the abolitionist movement and a thoroughgoing racist. He extolled the rule of one race over another, and resented especially the economists for being champions of universal rights and therefore opponents of slavery.

As David Levy has demonstrated, the claim that economics was a “dismal science” was first stated in an essay by Carlyle in 1848, an essay in which non-whites were claimed to be non-human and worthy of killing. Blacks were, to his mind, “two-legged cattle,” worthy of servitude for all times.

Carlyle’s objection to economics as a science was very simple: it opposed slavery. Economics imagined that society could consist of people of equal freedoms, a society without masters and slaves. Supply and demand, not dictators, would rule. To him, this was a dismal prospect, a world without “greatness.”

The economists were the leading champions of human liberation from such “greatness.” They understood, through the study of market forces and the close examination of the on-the-ground reality of factories and production structures, that wealth was made by the small actions of men and women acting in their own self interest. Therefore, concluded the economists, people should be free of despotism. They should be free to accumulate wealth. They should pursue their own interests in their own way. They should be let alone.

Carlyle found the whole capitalist worldview disgusting. His loathing foreshadowed the fascism of the 20th century: particularly its opposition to liberal capitalism, universal rights, and progress.

Fascism’s Prophet

Once you get a sense of what capitalism meant to humanity – universal liberation and the turning of social resources toward the service of the common person – it is not at all surprising to find reactionary intellectuals opposing it tooth and nail. There were generally two schools of thought that stood in opposition to what it meant to the world: the socialists and the champions of raw power that later came to be known as fascists. In today’s parlance, here is the left and the right, both standing in opposition to simple freedom.

Carlyle came along at just the right time to represent that reactionary brand of power for its own sake. His opposition to emancipation and writings on race would emerge only a few decades later into a complete ideology of eugenics that would later come to heavily inform 20th-century fascist experiments. There is a direct line, traversing only a few decades, between Carlyle’s vehement anti-capitalism and the ghettos and gas chambers of the German total state.

Do today’s neo-fascists understand and appreciate their 19th century progenitor? Not likely. The continuum from Carlyle to Mussolini to Franco to Donald Trump is lost on people who do not see beyond the latest political crisis. Not one in ten thousand activists among the European and American “alt-right” who are rallying around would-be strong men who seek power today have a clue about their intellectual heritage.

Hitler turned to Goebbels, his trusted assistant, and asked for a final reading. It was Carlyle.And it should not be necessary that they do. After all, we have a more recent history of the rise of fascism in the 20th-century from which to learn (and it is to their everlasting disgrace that they have refused to learn).

But no one should underestimate the persistence of an idea and its capacity to travel time, leading to results that no one intended directly but are still baked into the fabric of the ideological structure. If you celebrate power for its own sake, herald immorality as a civic ideal, and believe that history rightly consists of nothing more than the brutality of great men with power, you end up with unconscionable results that may not have been overtly intended but which were nonetheless given license by the absence of conscience opposition.

As time went on, left and right mutated, merged, diverged, and established a revolving door between the camps, disagreeing on the ends they sought but agreeing on the essentials. They would have opposed 19th-century liberalism and its conviction that society should be left alone. Whether they were called socialist or fascists, the theme was the same. Society must be planned from the top down. A great man — brilliant, powerful, with massive resources at his disposal — must lead. At some point in the middle of the 20th century, it became difficult to tell the difference but for their cultural style and owned constituencies. Even so, left and right maintained distinctive forms. If Marx was the founding father of the socialist left, Carlyle was his foil on the fascist right.

Hitler and Carlyle

In his waning days, defeated and surrounded only by loyalists in his bunker, Hitler sought consolation from the literature he admired the most. According to many biographers, the following scene took place. Hitler turned to Goebbels, his trusted assistant, and asked for a final reading. The words he chose to hear before his death were from Thomas Carlyle’s biography of Frederick the Great. Thus did Carlyle himself provide a fitting epitaph to one of the “great” men he so celebrated during his life: alone, disgraced, and dead.

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

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

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

Earth Day’s Subtle Pollution – Article by Edward Hudgins

Earth Day’s Subtle Pollution – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
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On the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, my high school class traveled to the Mall in D.C. to mark the occasion. Me? I skipped the trip. Instead, I stayed home to watch the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft return to Earth. My classmates and I had different values. And in the years since, I’ve watched as some of the sub-rosa values of Earth Day have spread to pollute our culture.

save-the-planet-kill-yourselfEarth Day as soft indoctrination

To get the obvious out of the way, it is valid to be concerned about the measurable adverse effects on human health of raw sewage, or toxic waste dumped into rivers, or poisonous factory fumes pumped out to choking lungs. But that concern has metastasized into a cultural hypochondria, a fear that everything created by humans is dangerous and, worse, is dangerous to an abstraction called “the environment” rather than to humans. What happened? For four and a half decades Earth Day has spread a form of soft indoctrination. Every year, school kids cut out little paper trees and leaves, visit recycling plants, watch Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance, and are generally asked by teachers, “What are you doing to help the environment?” Local news reporters visit the Earth Day Greenpeace booths at the town park and interview local politicos or business folks about how they are conserving the planet.
 ***

All value is for humans

What’s missing from this picture? Humans! Certainly the messages are mixed. Certainly there is talk about our kids living healthier lives if they are not exposed to carcinogens and the like. But the subtle shift fostered by this annual April ritual is from the material world being of value to humans to the material world being of value in and of itself.

Forests are of value to humans because we can use their trees for lumber for our houses—good for our material well-being—or walk through them to enjoy their beauty—good for our spiritual well-being. But they are not of value in and of themselves. Yet Earth Day has conditioned two generations to anthropomorphize forests, rivers, oceans, and “the environment” as entities with rights apart from us, the conscious valuers. And these two generations are now susceptible to the appeals of the environmental extremists who argue, in essence, that humans are trespassers on the planet. Thus, we see arguments for public policies that would demonstrably harm humans, especially those in less developed countries.

The value of technology and achievement

Worse, an unthinking regard for the environment blinds many to real future challenges and their only solutions. As poorer countries develop higher living standards, they will not be able to consume resources at the rate Western countries did when they were industrializing. New technologies that allow for more efficient and, as a result, less polluting ways to use resources will be essential. Technology is what created cities, skyscrapers, factories, trains, planes, cars, rockets, and most things that radical environmentalists want to curtail. Technologies are achievements of the human mind that, in turn, empower us to achieve more in our lives and in the world.

31st_centuryThis vision of the future is already grating on those who have been poisoned by the subtle extremist message of Earth Day. But the achievements in recent decades in information technology and the emerging achievements in nanotech, biotech, and artificial intelligence are causing many young people especially to shake off the destructive Earth Day ideology. These individuals understand not only that technology will help us meet true challenges to human well-being. They also appreciate that human well-being is the standard of value.

Let’s hope that in the future Earth Day is superseded by Human Achievement Day!

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

Actually, “Neoliberalism” Is Awesome – Article by Scott Sumner

Actually, “Neoliberalism” Is Awesome – Article by Scott Sumner

The New Renaissance HatScott Sumner
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Unfortunately, What’s Best for the World Is Not Best for Every Subset of It

I am seeing more and more articles, even at respectable outlets such as the Economist and the Financial Times, suggesting that the rise of right-wing and left-wing populism shows that something is wrong with the neoliberal model.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The past two decades have been by far the best two decades in human history, and that’s what really matters.

Naysayers will sometimes acknowledge that hundreds of millions of people have recently risen out of poverty, but then claim that living standards have stagnated in America. That’s also nonsense, as I explained in this post.

The next fallback position is that while real incomes in America have risen, the gains have gone to corporations, not workers. That’s also nonsense, as I explained in this post. The share of national income going to workers today is the same as it was 50 years ago, the supposed heyday of the working class.

The next fallback position is that while wages have done fine, even in real terms, wage income is becoming less equal. Bingo! Finally we get to an accurate statement. Fifty years ago, blue-collar workers at General Motors often made more than college professors. People with short attention spans sometimes act like this period was “normal”, ignoring 10,000 years of human history. They seem to suggest that our most pressing problem is that young men who don’t study in school and just shoot rubber bands across the classroom should be able to earn an income that (in relative terms) was never possible in any period of world history before the 1950s and has never been possible in any period of world history after the 1970s. It reminds me of when farmers used to set the “parity” of farm prices with other goods prices based on the relatively high levels of 1909-14, treating that ratio as normal for purposes of farm subsidies.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against blue-collar workers. I’m relatively intellectual, and even I found the public schools to be mind-numbingly boring. I could hardly stay awake. I can’t even imagine how students less interested in ideas than I am could’ve gotten through the day. Nor am I one of those conservatives that will trash low-income whites for their lifestyle choices. As far as blue-collar workers are concerned, I wish them well. But I wish everyone well (except Trump), and the unfortunate truth is that the set of economic policies that is best for the world right now is probably not optimal for a subset of American blue-collar workers.

When I point out that the most important factor in trade policy is the impact on the poor in developing countries, some of my commenters tell me that the US shouldn’t have to import from China or India because they have lots of other countries to sell to. As Marie Antoinette might’ve said “let them sell to Canada.” That’s right, progressives ease their conscience by claiming that other developed countries won’t follow the same evil trade policies that progressives like Sanders want the US to follow, so things won’t actually be that bad for poor people in Bangladesh. More often, they entirely ignore the issue.

I know that progressives like to think of themselves as the good guys, but the honest truth is that on trade they are increasingly becoming the bad ones, right along with Trump.

And here’s what else people don’t get. Not all the problems in the world are caused by neoliberal economic theories, for the simple reason that not all economic policies reflect neoliberal economic theories. Even if everything people say about inequality is true, there’s nothing wrong with the neoliberal model, which allows for the EITC, progressive consumption taxes, and sensible reforms of intellectual property rights, occupational licensing, and zoning laws.

I can’t help it if Democratic politicians oppose reforms of intellectual property rights. I can’t help it if progressives that once favored progressive consumption taxes now oppose progressive consumption taxes. I can’t help it if Democrats voted to repeal the luxury tax on yachts soon after having enacted a luxury tax on yachts. I can’t help it if progressives suddenly feel that a $15 an hour minimum wage is not a loony idea.

The simple truth is that neoliberal economic policies work, as we’ve seen in Denmark and Switzerland and Singapore, and socialism doesn’t work, as we’ve seen in Venezuela. So I’m asking all those wavering neoliberals in the respectable press (Thatcher called them “wets“) to stop your handwringing and get out there and boldly defend the neoliberal model. It’s not just the best model; in the long run it’s the only model that really works.

Scott B. Sumner is the director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center and a professor at Bentley University. He blogs at the Money Illusion and Econlog.

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