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Why Transhumanists Should Not Endorse the Two-Party Political System – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Politics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
September 26, 2015

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Extensive discussions have recently occurred in transhumanist circles on the desirable strategies, tactics, and directions for transhumanist political activity in the United States. One question in particular has stood out among these discussions: Is it a wise or prudent choice for a transhumanist, especially a prominent one, to endorse a Presidential candidate from one of the two major political parties (Republican or Democratic) and to actively work to support that candidate’s election, when that candidate has not expressed strong sympathies with the transhumanist vision of overcoming human limitations through scientific and technological progress? Some transhumanists may believe that such an endorsement would gain them influence within the political mainstream, perhaps eventually leading to advisory positions and the ability to direct political elites toward decisions that are more conducive to accelerating technological progress or removing barriers to the arrival of radical life extension.

However, this expectation is mistaken. Here I outline several major reasons why, to achieve the best possible outcomes, transhumanists should stand apart from the two-party political system. Instead, transhumanists should pursue their advocacy goals – be they policy-oriented or focused on education of the general public on emerging technologies – through their own independent organizations and voices. This approach does not rule out collaboration with other, non-transhumanist institutions and individuals, nor does it prevent one from acknowledging both the merits of certain non-transhumanist candidates’ positions and the flaws of some transhumanists’ chosen strategies. However, it is imperative to avoid the perceived compulsion to subordinate oneself to the two-party political system just because it is there.

(1) The existing two-party political system in the United States is an obstacle to transhumanism and cannot be effectively used as its instrument. The two-party system is designed to preserve the very institutional status quo which puts forth barriers to technological advancement and causes the rate of progress to currently lag far behind its potential. Both the Democratic and the Republican political machines primarily exist to protect those with political connections, who might be dislodged from positions of economic privilege by dramatic technological change and the attendant reshuffling of the social order. As such, the rhetoric of the major political parties tends to be concentrated on relatively minor differences in governance styles, personalities, accidents of history, and “hot-button” issues over which elected officials have little substantive influence (for instance, abortion, religion, and gun ownership). This is a strategy of distraction, used to keep the public focused on matters largely outside of any politician’s control, thereby leaving the dominance of today’s politically connected special interests intact by default. At the same time, the fundamental questions raised by transhumanists about possibilities for dramatically improving the human condition, deliberately go unaddressed on the campaign trail. Mainstream politicians do not wish to discuss the colossal changes that could and should be wrought by emerging technologies.

(2) Current major-party candidates would never accept transhumanism anyway. Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or any of the others running with an “R” or “D” next to their names will not change by an iota if endorsed by even a prominent transhumanist. All of these candidates will disregard the transhumanist endorsement, each for their peculiar mix of reasons, but with a strikingly similar outcome. No matter how strongly a transhumanist endorses these actual or would-be politicians, their mainstream advisors will not let transhumanists into their circle. This is actually a compliment to the transhumanists, who stand apart from and above the political status quo. It is not the transhumanists who must bend to the political status quo. Rather, the political status quo is precisely what transhumanists must overcome in order to achieve their aims. The way to bypass the establishment’s grip on politics is not to join the establishment, but rather to shift the discussion and climate of public opinion so as to render the establishment reluctantly compelled to follow the currents of change, made possible by emerging technologies in a hyper-pluralist society.

(3) Endorsing an establishment candidate will alienate the transhumanist base. Instead, a prominent transhumanist would do much better to pay attention to and leverage the ideas and projects originating from the natural constituencies of transhumanism – futurists, researchers, technology entrepreneurs, philosophically inclined laypersons, and “digital natives” of the millennial generation. Through a bit of organization and creative marketing, a prominent transhumanist could harness the energies of these creative, talented, and industrious individuals into major intellectual, infrastructural, and public-awareness victories for the transhumanist movement. The impetus for a movement such as transhumanism – and, more generally, any ideological movement that seeks radical societal change – is precisely the lack of accommodation for that movement’s ideals in the current society. The energy of the movement’s base will be lost if they see its direction as one of sacrificing its core distinctiveness and ideals in order to fit within the mainstream political mold and to seek acceptance by political elites to whom the movement’s ideals are completely foreign. If Hillary Clinton or Ben Carson (or any mainstream candidate who comes to mind) suddenly achieved philosophical enlightenment and announced strong personal support for transhumanism, then this would be a victory for transhumanism and a sign that the candidate is worthy of serious consideration. But for a transhumanist to endorse a mainstream candidate without that kind of gesture on the candidate’s part is simply a signal that the candidate does not need to change in order to gain or retain the support of the transhumanist.

As an analogy, consider the very different fates of Ron Paul and his son Rand. Ron Paul – a libertarian and Constitutional conservative whose views are profoundly incompatible with those of the Republican Party establishment – only ran as a Republican to raise the profile of his educational efforts in favor of individual liberty and limited government. But he never endorsed one of his Republican rivals for the nomination, even after dropping out of the races in 2008 and 2012. He did not agree with the policy stances of John McCain and Mitt Romney, so he simply stood aside and continued to express his principled views. He remains highly esteemed in many libertarian and constitutional conservative circles today. By contrast, Rand Paul endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, thinking that this was a stepping stone to securing the Republican nomination in 2016. However, this decision alienated Rand Paul’s natural libertarian political base (which despised Romney). At the same time, Rand Paul is still far too libertarian to be accepted by the Republican elite, in spite of all of the compromises he has made over the past few years in order to appear “electable” and palatable to establishment media commentators and pollsters. As a result, he is a minor contender for the Republican nomination, quite unlikely to win or even advance his standing.

By analogy, the transhumanist movement is extremely unlikely to show even a modicum of concerted support for a particular establishment candidate – whether Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Bernie Sanders, or Bobby Jindal. (As noted above, this is also a justified outcome, since none of these candidates would accommodate the vision and objectives of the transhumanist movement.) On the other hand, an explicit transhumanist – Zoltan Istvan – has rallied many transhumanists behind his candidacy, but he can only maintain their enthusiasm in the political arena for as long as he remains in the running. Istvan has been able to garner considerable sympathies from transhumanists who are otherwise extremely varied in their political persuasions and metaphysical worldviews. However, once a transhumanist candidate is no longer running, his supporters will go their separate ways. The libertarian transhumanists will either abstain from voting or endorse the Libertarian Party nominee (as I, for instance, did in 2008 and 2012). Many of the democratic, egalitarian, and socialist transhumanists will strongly support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. A few might even favor the Green Party nominee. If Istvan stays in the race, however, many of these transhumanists will be tempted to support him until the end. Even if they do not get to cast a ballot for Istvan, they could help with activism, crowdfunding, and publicity-raising initiatives.

(4) Endorsing an establishment candidate will be seen as a defeat for transhumanism. If a prominent transhumanist advocates for the election of a particular front-runner, this will essentially be perceived as a concession to the political mainstream and the two-party system. Transhumanism only has a chance if it remains independent of the Republican/Democratic hegemony and instead continues to be an outside voice, gradually influencing politicians to change their ways – not because transhumanists have joined them, but because the evolution of society and public opinion leave them no other choice. If instead the establishment’s favored pundits get to say, “Aha! Even the starry-eyed, utopian transhumanists recognized the futility of their lofty dreams and decided to come down to Earth and join us sensible people” – then this will be seen as a major blow to visionary transhumanist ideals.

(5) Because transhumanists do not hold primaries, nothing prevents them from remaining independent voices until the end. It is understandable that, as the electoral season unfolds, both Republican and Democratic contenders would eventually drop out to support the leading candidate of their party. Transhumanists, however, are under no such compulsion. For instance, Zoltan Istvan has no rivals for the Transhumanist candidacy, and can formally remain in the race for as long as he wishes. He does not even need to have a massive fundraising base to do so. Even if he eventually ends up with $0 for campaign purposes, he could make a few statements, write a few articles, give a few interviews now and then, to stay officially in the running and in the public eye. No matter what happens at the polls, he will then be remembered as a pioneering transhumanist candidate who never gave up or gave in. This legacy could secure his place in history, much like Ron Paul’s principled, unyielding character and actions secured his.

For all other transhumanists who are not running for office, there is absolutely no need to endorse a candidate who is the last man (or woman) standing after the primary processes of the major parties are concluded. Voting should not be about backing someone whom one expects to win, but rather about expressing one’s own ideals and aspirations for superior policy decisions and outcomes.

As I pointed out in my original endorsement of Zoltan Istvan’s campaign,

In fact, much of the sub-optimal equilibrium of the two-party system in the United States arises from a misguided “expectations trap” – where each voter fears expressing his or her principles by voting for the candidate closest to that voter’s actual policy preferences. Instead, voters who are caught in the expectations trap will tend to vote for the “lesser evil” (in their view) from one party, because they tend to think that the consequences of the election of the candidate from the other party will be dire indeed, and they do not want to “take their vote away” from the slightly less objectionable candidate. This thinking rests on the false assumption that a single individual’s vote, especially in a national election, can actually sway the outcome. Given that the probabilities of this occurring are negligible, the better choice – the choice consistent with individual autonomy and the pursuit of principle – is to vote solely based on one’s preference, without any regard for how others will vote or how the election will turn out. One is free to persuade others to vote a certain way, of course, or to listen to arguments from others – but these persuasive efforts, to have merit, should be based on the actual positions and character of the candidates involved, and not on appeals to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity in order to fulfill the “collective good” of avoiding the victory of the “absolutely terrible” (not quite) candidate from one major party, whose policy choices are likely to be near-identical to the “only slightly terrible” candidate from the other major party. While an individual’s vote cannot actually affect who wins, it can – if exercised according to preference – send a signal as to what issues voters actually care about. Whichever politicians do get elected would see a large outpouring of third-party support as a signal of public discontentment and will perhaps be prompted by this signal to shift their stances on policy issues based on the vote counts they observe. Even a few thousand votes for the Transhumanist Party can send a sufficient signal that many Americans are becoming interested in accelerating technological innovation and the freedom from obstacles posed to it by legacy institutions.

In order to preserve the desirable role of voting as an expression of genuine individual preferences, the least constructive course of action is to vote for someone just because others might, or because that person is considered by establishment media and pundits to “have a chance of winning.” Ultimately, whether a transhumanist ends up voting for a third-party candidate, a major-party candidate, or not at all, is not so important as whether that transhumanist actually voted according to his or her individual conscience and principles.

A Vision for Transhumanist Political Involvement

Given that support of the two-party system should be a non-starter for transhumanists, what is a better way? The best approach is to gradually shape the external environment to which politicians respond, instead of playing the game of politics by the rules at which establishment politicians are adept. Conventional politicians seek to get elected and re-elected and must therefore cater to multiple constituencies, often with contradictory interests and preferences. But this does not need to be the way of politics. Ron Paul, for instance, was a pioneer of the educational campaign – the use of the publicity attached to political involvement as a means primarily to spread a message and change the climate of public opinion, rather than to win office. The educational campaign is more resilient than the conventional campaign, since it does not need to be concerned with weekly poll figures or donations from special interests who seek special favors. Zoltan Istvan has also endeavored to pursue this approach through his numerous writings, interviews, and the Immortality Bus campaign. As an incredibly energetic, determined, and active individual, he has been able to attract major publicity on a minimal budget. Istvan’s educational campaign should continue for as long as possible – ideally all the way up to Election Day 2016. His continued presence in the race would give many transhumanists a compelling reason not to acquiesce to the two-party system with cynical resignation.

But, far beyond the 2016 election season, the formation of a Transhumanist Party infrastructure in the United States creates the possibility of a much longer-range strategy for influencing public opinion toward an enthusiastic embrace of emerging technologies and the imperative of technological progress. Indeed, the possibility exists to take the concept of an educational campaign a step further. Instead of having the election of candidates to office as its primary objective, a transhumanist political party – be it the United States Transhumanist Party or a State-level affiliate – should instead focus directly on education, activism, and policy recommendations. We do not so much need politicians in office with a “T” next to their names, as we need the climate of public opinion to be favorable to the vision of the future that we advocate.

NTP-Logo-9-1-2015It is with this vision in mind that Wendy Stolyarov and I formed the Nevada Transhumanist Party on August 31, 2015. (See the officially filed Constitution and Bylaws here and a searchable version here; also join the Facebook group here, as Allied Membership is open to any person, anywhere, with a rational faculty and ability to form political opinions.) While an initial impetus for this decision was to further raise the profile of Zoltan Istvan’s Presidential campaign, the long-term benefit of establishing an infrastructure for discussion and activism among transhumanists is even more important to us. The Nevada Transhumanist Party is a State-level political party unlike any other. While we support the efforts of the United States Transhumanist Party, we are also independent from it in governance and decision-making. We will not be fielding our own candidates or funding any campaigns in the foreseeable future. Rather, we will use volunteer efforts to coordinate educational events – both online and in person – and connect individuals who are interested in the possibilities made available by emerging technologies. Over time, we will build a network of support and will encourage participation by as many people as are interested. Indeed, the Nevada Transhumanist Party Constitution explicitly embraces the concept of making alliances with others to attain specific objectives without sacrificing principles or independence. We also aim to achieve the maximum possible inclusiveness in terms of party membership, receptiveness to member input, and delegation of authority to members who are interested in undertaking beneficial projects that help advance the principles and objectives expressed in the Nevada Transhumanist Party Platform. We will enthusiastically endorse any worthwhile project that is consistent with these aims. Our goal is not to win any particular election, but rather to move toward a society in which any elected official will need to respect the transhumanist vision and do nothing to impede it, in order to attain office and remain there. This allows us the luxury of a long time horizon, consistent with the long-term vision that transhumanism itself holds for our hopefully long-lived future.

If more of us reject the notion of politics as a winner-take-all horse race and replace responses to day-to-day poll fluctuations with a steady, principled effort toward securing the long-term prospects of transhumanism, then we will have won a lasting victory against politics as usual. In the process, we might just create the better world that conventional politicians keep promising, but never deliver.

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.


The Importance of Zoltan Istvan’s Transhumanist Presidential Campaign – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Education, Politics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 13, 2015

 Zoltan Istvan – journalist, transhumanist philosopher, and author of the novel The Transhumanist Wager – is currently touring the western United States on his Immortality Bus, spreading the message that indefinite life extension is achievable through the progress of science and technology, and should become a political priority. Istvan is running for President of the United States. He knows that he is almost certainly not going to win the 2016 Presidential election, but he seeks to maximize public awareness of the opportunities and questions posed by emerging technologies, and he has thus far done so on an impressively minimal budget. Istvan has founded the United States Transhumanist Party and has encouraged the formation of State-level parties in order to improve his chances of recognition as a candidate at the federal level. On August 31, 2015, Wendy Stolyarov and I officially formed the Nevada Transhumanist Party and registered it with the Secretary of State. (See the officially filed Constitution and Bylaws here and a searchable version here; also join the Facebook group here, as Allied Membership is open to anyone with a rational faculty and ability to form political opinions.) The Nevada Transhumanist Party Platform adopts and expands upon many of the planks of the United States Transhumanist Party Platform – but also imparts upon them a heightened libertarian and individualistic flavor.

Even while I also do not expect Zoltan Istvan to win the Presidency in 2016, and while I recognize the even greater difficulty of qualifying for ballot access for State-level offices (in Nevada, this would require submitting a petition with the signatures of 5,431 registered voters and is thus not a near-term priority for the Nevada Transhumanist Party), I still unequivocally endorse Istvan’s campaign. Why have I made this decision? I present my reasoning here. Whether or not readers will view Istvan as their preferred choice for President, the motives for his campaign and its impact have a much broader significance that should be considered by all.

NTP-Logo-9-1-20151. Voting should not be about who wins. In fact, much of the sub-optimal equilibrium of the two-party system in the United States arises from a misguided “expectations trap” – where each voter fears expressing his or her principles by voting for the candidate closest to that voter’s actual policy preferences. Instead, voters who are caught in the expectations trap will tend to vote for the “lesser evil” (in their view) from one party, because they tend to think that the consequences of the election of the candidate from the other party will be dire indeed, and they do not want to “take their vote away” from the slightly less objectionable candidate. This thinking rests on the false assumption that a single individual’s vote, especially in a national election, can actually sway the outcome. Given that the probabilities of this occurring are negligible, the better choice – the choice consistent with individual autonomy and the pursuit of principle – is to vote solely based on one’s preference, without any regard for how others will vote or how the election will turn out. One is free to persuade others to vote a certain way, of course, or to listen to arguments from others – but these persuasive efforts, to have merit, should be based on the actual positions and character of the candidates involved, and not on appeals to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity in order to fulfill the “collective good” of avoiding the victory of the “absolutely terrible” (not quite) candidate from one major party, whose policy choices are likely to be near-identical to the “only slightly terrible” candidate from the other major party. While an individual’s vote cannot actually affect who wins, it can – if exercised according to preference – send a signal as to what issues voters actually care about. Whichever politicians do get elected would see a large outpouring of third-party support as a signal of public discontentment and will perhaps be prompted by this signal to shift their stances on policy issues based on the vote counts they observe. Even a few thousand votes for the Transhumanist Party can send a sufficient signal that many Americans are becoming interested in accelerating technological innovation and the freedom from obstacles posed to it by legacy institutions.

2. Life and liberty necessarily go together. You cannot have liberty if you are not alive, and you cannot live well unless you have liberty. In “Liberty Through Long Life” (2013), I discussed the many emerging technologies that could facilitate dramatic improvements in individual liberty, but also noted that “there is a common requirement for one to enjoy all of these potential breakthroughs, along with many others that may be wholly impossible to anticipate: one has to remain alive for a long time. The longer one remains alive, the greater the probability that one’s personal sphere of liberty would be expanded by these innovations.” In “Liberty or Death: Why Libertarians Should Proclaim That Death is Wrong” (2014), I expressed a corollary to this insight: “If we argue for liberty today, it will still likely take decades of the most ardent advocacy and activism to undo the harms caused by ongoing and escalating infringements of every natural and constitutional right of even the most law-abiding citizens. Therefore, while I support every effort – conventional or radically innovative – to move our societies and governments in the direction of liberty, it is essential to recognize that the success of such efforts will take an immense amount of time. If you do not remain alive during that time, then you will die without having known true liberty.”

Unfortunately, given the current combination of political, economic, and societal conditions – including the decidedly un-libertarian mindsets of the majority of the world’s population today – the transformation of existing societies into libertarian havens will not occur anytime soon. Politics as usual – and even libertarian argumentation as usual – will not get us there in time for us. And yet we should continue to strive to actualize the libertarian ideals; we should do so by championing radical life extension as well as societal transformation by means of emerging technologies, so that the balance of resources and incentives can gradually shift in favor of individualistic, pro-liberty mindsets and behaviors – without violent revolutions or other personally damaging upheavals.

Zoltan Istvan is attempting to do exactly what I have advocated in “The Imperative of Technological Progress: Why Stagnation Will Lead to Disaster and How Techno-Optimism Can Overcome It” (2015): “The key to achieving a freer, more prosperous, and longer-lived future is to educate both elites and the general public to accurately weigh the opportunities and risks of emerging technologies. […] By simply arguing the techno-optimist case and educating people from all walks of life about the tremendous beneficial potential of emerging technologies, we can each do our part to ensure that the 21st century will become known as an era of humankind’s great liberation from its age-old limitations, and not a lurch back into the bog of premodern barbarism.” By becoming a prominent techno-optimist advocate, Istvan has even transcended the typical issue-specific policy debates. I may disagree with some of Istvan’s specific policy stances (for instance, his suggestion that college should be free and mandatory for all) – but these disagreements are greatly outweighed by my support for Istvan’s larger role as a visible champion of a radical acceleration of technological progress – the only path that will enable the libertarian ideal to ever be actualized for us.

3. Zoltan Istvan has successfully and beneficially co-opted politics as a vehicle for techno-optimist discourse. Zoltan Istvan is achieving for the cause of transhumanism – the overcoming of age-old human limitations through science and technology – what Ron Paul achieved for the cause of libertarianism during his Presidential runs in 2008 and 2012 (both of which I supported). Ron Paul also did not win the Presidency (although he became an impressive contender for it), but the educational impact of his campaign was tremendous – particularly raising awareness on the issues of a peaceful foreign policy and respect for civil liberties and social freedoms, but also to some extent on the dangers of central banking and inflationary monetary policy. A new generation of activists for liberty came of age during the Ron Paul campaigns and obtained valuable experience and a platform for advocating meaningful policy changes. While Ron Paul was not the sole influence on the recent decisions in many states to completely decriminalize marijuana, the 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, and the United States’ avoidance of war with both Russia and Iran, he certainly helped sway the political climate in the direction of these victories for liberty. The Republicans lost both the 2008 and 2012 Presidential Elections, and deserved to lose, in part because the Republican Party establishment deliberately sidelined Ron Paul and rigged the rules against him. Meanwhile, Ron Paul ended up a longer-term winner – an intellectual inspiration to a growing segment of the American population, many of whom continue to deeply respect his example and unwavering integrity.

Zoltan Istvan is venturing even further in the direction of politics-as-education, completely discarding the damaging notion of politics-as-horse-race. Instead of throwing much of his effort into the task of winning the election – which often requires duplicitous rhetoric, creation of a fake persona, and appeals to the lowest common denominator, hardly recipes for true progress – Istvan holds nothing back in expressing what he actually thinks about the desired directions for politics and government. In particular, he emphasizes issues that other candidates systematically avoid – such as the implications of human genetic modification or the possibilities of radical life extension in the coming decades. By prominently communicating that these technologies are not mere science fiction but proximate opportunities, Istvan may persuade large numbers of people to press for the removal of political and other institutional barriers to these technologies’ development and dissemination. Public awareness of possibilities for tremendous technological improvement may result in a greater groundswell of advocacy for the “Six Libertarian Reforms to Accelerate Life Extension” that I outlined in 2013. Zoltan Istvan is, furthermore, an ardent champion of taking resources away from offensive inter-human wars, which needlessly destroy many innocent lives, and instead devoting those resources to technological innovation – so that we can stand a chance of winning the real war that we should be fighting against the forces of ruin. Even this alone – giving the world a few decades of breathing room from organized slaughter staged by national governments – would have a colossal, salutary effect on progress and human well-being.

4. The most vital political change will be achieved by visionaries on the fringes, who do not care about the winds of popular opinion. Mainstream politicians – particularly officeholders who seek reelection – are most often lagging, rather than leading, indicators of societal change. In order to keep the favor of their constituents, politicians need to either respond to ever-shifting public opinion or to create the illusion of doing so (a more common course of action in the increasingly oligarchic American political system). For good or for ill, third parties have most often been the originators of policy proposals that were eventually adopted by a future political establishment. To successfully advocate principled positions – such as the maximization of individual liberty and the elimination of political barriers to life-extension research and treatments – does not require holding political office, but it does require visibly persuading many people – both ordinary voters and elites – that these positions are correct. Those politicians who mostly care about remaining in office will never drive these changes themselves, but they might find themselves impelled to jump on the bandwagon if enough support accumulates. I hope that, because of what Zoltan Istvan is doing today, major party platforms in the 2020s and 2030s will include at least some favorable mentions of life-extending medical research, if not calls for the removal of legacy institutional barriers to the acceleration of such research.

Because of the first-time Transhumanist political presence, the 2016 US Presidential election will be unlike any other. This time, especially given the completely unpalatable candidates from both the Republican and Democratic Parties, it is time to try a radically different approach. Jettisoning the conventional aims of electoral politics and turning it instead into a peaceful, honest, innovative, and spectacular educational campaign for techno-optimism and longevity, is a promising approach that could bear fruit for advocates of liberty, even many years and decades into the future.

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.


Has Donald Trump Unleashed the Neo-Nazis? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
September 8, 2015

Donald Trump went from clown to contender in a mere 30 days. He is now polling in at 30% among Republicans, a 12-point spread from Ben Carson who is #2. Trump still loses next to Hillary by 2 points, but her nomination is not secure.

A race of Sanders vs. Trump would be quite the sight, straight out of the 1930s. It’s the Reds vs. the Browns all over again. My own sense is that the Browns could win this. Then we have a serious problem. As much as we loathe the establishment, it could be worse.

It’s time libertarians get serious about realizing that there exists such a thing as Brown-shirted socialism. It masquerades as patriotism. It seeks national greatness. It celebrates the majority race and dehumanizes the other. It is violently protectionist. On cultural matters, it is anti-leftist (“politically incorrect”). It is unapologetically authoritarian.

Even given all this, we are mostly mystified by it. It doesn’t strike us as a coherent ideology. It seems like a string of bad policy ideas (and some not terrible ones too) rather than a real political tradition. This is because we, as libertarians, are well-schooled to fear the socialist left but have little preparation to understand the threat from the other side.

Events of the last weeks should heighten our consciousness. There really is a brown-shirt movement in the U.S. It’s been building for many years. They have their organizations, books, websites, and splits within splits. The neo-Nazis are the most extreme variant. But fascism has many other types of expression, each reflecting a special interest, but each of them leading to a special kind of authoritarianism.

That the neo-Nazis support Trump is an established fact. Notorious racist, anti-semite, and unapologetic former KKK grand dragon David Duke has endorsed Donald Trump for president. So has the mega-popular website Stormfront.org, with its overtly neo-Nazi editorial outlook.

The American Nazi Party (yes, there is such a thing, as founded by George Lincoln Rockwell) is also all-in with support: “He tells it as the majority of the population FEELS, and he’s far ahead in the polls because of it.”

When Trump was asked about all of this, his response was that he didn’t know about it, but that this is not surprising since “everyone likes me.” He said he would be happy to repudiate their support “if that would make you feel better.”

Is this just the leftwing media looking for any excuse to smear a great American? Many of his supporters think so. And this is because the American left has been traditionally reckless about flinging the labels racist and anti-semite (and so on) against anyone with whom they disagree. However, let’s remember that just because the boy cries wolf constantly doesn’t mean that wolves do not exist.

Some people say that this supposed neo-Nazi/racist/nativist group is tiny and irrelevant? That’s what I used to think.

Until recently. I was a critic of Trump early on, for his trade and immigration views. I wrote an article that ended up in Newsweek.

Then I became a target. My social feed blew up with scum of the earth suddenly taking me on as their enemy. I was the target of the most vicious hate campaign I’ve ever experienced. I wish this on no one.

In the course of two weeks, blocking accounts of neo-Nazis and their affiliated friends became a part-time job. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about a movement that is actually large and growing right in the United States. You can call it extreme right if you want to, but its views on politics are not that different in substance from the extreme left. They have different styles but they are both authoritarian to the core, lustful for power to achieve their own aims.

As regards the right-wing authoritarians, Trump is their savior.

Here is a typical example. A Twitter account (“Seth Rubenstienberg”) features a Nazi-era caricature of a Jew. It posts incendiary posts such as this one: “if whites ever manage to get another ethno-state in the future, women’s bodies should be regulated. None of this my choice bullshit.”

The account has only 216 followers. That does not sound like much. But I’ve banned at least 50 such accounts. Multiply that account by 1,000 times and you have something serious going on. And when all these people are tweeting at you at once, it can be overwhelming.

It’s been true with Facebook too. The neo-Nazis came crawling out of their holes in the ground to denounce me as an enemy of the race, a self-hating white, a “cuckservative” (their favorite term for their enemies), and so on.

They having been posting on my wall incessantly. Many of their accounts celebrate other movements with only one degree of separation from the real deal. Instead of announcing themselves as neo-Nazis, they choose other causes: white nationalism, protectionism, anti-immigration, men’s rights, the hope for theocracy, and so on.

But for me, it’s become so inevitable as to become boring. I’ve learned to smell these people a mile away. You dig a bit and you land right where we started: straight-out hate rooted in Nazi ideology.

I’ve banned one FB account every few hours for weeks now — truly offensive material.

On the one hand, it is a credit to American democracy that we have such free speech, and I would oppose any government shutdowns of such accounts and sites. The worst mistake anyone could ever make in opposition to brown-shirted politics is to shut them down by force. That only reinforces their deluded perceptions that they have hit on a fundamental truth, and are being persecuted for it.

But free speech reigns on social media, and it’s given me an education about the existence — and the danger — of this movement that I once supposed was an invention of the “liberal media.”

Here is the question I keep asking myself. I’ve been on social media for a long time. Why is this just now happening? The answer is Trump. His free-wheeling style and open attacks on immigrants and foreigners, and hard-core promotion of trade isolationism, has emboldened them as never before.

As for how important they are, consider that the most popular neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, has a higher traffic ranking than the Cato Institute or Heritage Foundation. These people are not irrelevant. They are real and growing.

Why should I care? I’m a devoted follower of the economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), a genius and a Jew. He was driven out of his home in Austria because of the rise of Hitler. And why did Hitler rise? Because a population was fed up with the corrupt political system and a failing economic structure — a situation not unlike our own.

Mises was a dedicated opponent of the socialist left. His first major book on political theory (1922) took them on. But, little more than a decade later, it was not the red shirts that ruined his life. It was the brownshirts who are socialists of a type but use race hatred, misogyny, nativism, and the hope for religious and political domination as a means of control. They drove him from his home and stole his money and books. He barely escaped death.

Are we seeing the rise of a fascist movement in the U.S., and has Trump unleashed them? Is this our Road to Serfdom? Judging from Trump’s rise, and what I’ve experienced in the last week, there is no basis for pretending otherwise.

Jeffrey Tucker is Chief Liberty Officer of Liberty.me (http://liberty.me/join), a subscription-based, action-focused social and publishing platform for the liberty minded. He is also distinguished fellow Foundation for Economic Education (http://fee.org), executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, research fellow Acton Institute, founder CryptoCurrency Conference, and author six books. He is available for speaking and interviews via tucker@liberty.me.


Why the Candidates Keep Giving Us Reasons to Use the “F” Word – The Electoral Clown Car Is Full of Nationalistic Socialists – Article by Steven Horwitz

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The New Renaissance HatSteven Horwitz
August 6, 2015

“There are far too many candidates,” writes Dana Milbank at the Washington Post. “And to gain attention they are juggling, tooting horns and blowing slide whistles like so many painted performers emerging from a clown car.” The two clowns making the most noise in recent weeks are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

At first glance, it would seem they couldn’t be more different: a Democrat and a Republican, a friend of the unions and a CEO, a man of relatively modest means by congressional standards and one of the wealthiest men in the United States. But a closer look reveals some interesting similarities and teaches us an important lesson about the history of ideas. What Sanders and Trump have in common is no laughing matter.

Recent articles by libertarians on both candidates have suggested that they are both strongly nationalist. Dan Bier tore apart Sanders for his views on immigration, and both Jeff Tucker and Jason Kuznicki have associated Trump with nationalism and perhaps even a variant of fascism. I think they are all on to something: Sanders and Trump have a lot more in common than many think. But before I get there, we need to take a detour into the history of socialism and fascism.

In its original conception, Marxian socialism was strongly internationalist. Marx’s theory was based on the idea of class struggle and the disparity in power between those who owned the means of production (the capitalists) and those who did not (the proletariat).

Marxism has nothing to do with nationality. It’s all about class, defined as whether or not one owns capital. For true Marxists, a German worker has much more in common with a Russian worker or an Italian worker than he or she does with a German capitalist. Marxism did not give any importance to national borders.

For many in the early 20th century, this was a problem with Marxism, especially in the aftermath of World War I. Much like today, people were looking for a “third way” between capitalism and socialism. For many of those people, that third way was fascism.

Today we use the word fascism as an epithet, especially for bossy people. We associate it with dictatorships, and especially with Nazism. It turns out that fascism was a fairly well-worked-out theory of how to organize a society, and in its original form was not about racism or anti-Semitism directly. Fascism was an attempt to combine what people saw as the best parts of capitalism and socialism, and then to do so in the context of putting nationality before class.

The most extensive writing about how fascism would work came from the Italians in the 1920s and 1930s, and interested readers should find a copy of Luigi Villari’s The Economics of Fascism to see the details. (You can find a nice summary of those ideas in Sheldon Richman’s entry on fascism in the online Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.)

The fascists argued that the whole notion of class conflict was the problem. Instead of pitting class against class and tearing nations apart, why not bring all the parties together and give them the chance to cooperate with each other rather than struggle their way to socialism? The fascist economy was built around a series of cartels where the state, the nominal owners of the means of production, and the workers (represented by labor unions) would get together and figure out what to produce, how to produce it, what to charge, and how much profit would be “allowed.”

The fascists agreed with socialism’s desire not to leave markets to spontaneous ordering forces, but they thought the nation-state should direct the economy, not the workers. Both capitalism and socialism involved conflict, not cooperation. The same third-way thinking, and some of the same structures, were present in the first two years of the New Deal in the United States. The cartels of the National Recovery Administration were modeled after Italian fascism, and FDR and Mussolini were mutual admirers.

You can see how fascism took elements of both capitalism and socialism, then added nationalism. The idea was to look out for the welfare of the nation-state first. The Italian capitalist and the Italian worker were both Italians first and foremost, and that should be the first call on their allegiance. Lashing socialism to the glorification of the nation-state gives us fascism, and you can see why anyone who represented a threat to national identity would quickly become a problem.

This is one reason why the German version of fascism so easily linked up with a long history of German anti-Semitism. The Nazis were undoubtedly socialist (recall that Nazi is short for National Socialist German Workers Party), as even a quick glance at their 1920 platform will tell you. They were also, even at that date, fiercely nationalist. In Hitler’s hands, that national pride quickly became a desire to glorify the Aryan race.

Plus, recall that Jews were disproportionately both capitalists and supporters of the Marxist revolution in Russia — not to mention the symbol of the cosmopolitan, rootless nomad for centuries. Many of those who wanted to reject both capitalism and Marxian socialism saw the Jews as the symbol of both.

So what does this have to do with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump?

I would argue that they are both “nationalist socialists.” That is, they both embody key elements of fascism. They both think the nation comes first, and they both think the United States is an organization (not a spontaneous order) that should be under someone’s control.

The difference is that Sanders sees both the problems and the solutions from the workers’ perspective, so he’s focusing on both the exploitation by capitalists and keeping immigrants out to protect the wages of US workers. The losses to US workers matter more than the large gains to foreign-born workers coming here.

Trump sees all of this from the CEO/owner/capitalist perspective. He thinks the United States is, or should be, like a big firm where we all work together for a common goal. He envisions himself as the CEO, negotiating deals with other countries as if they, too, were just big corporate firms. But nations are not firms — they are spontaneous orders.

As I argued in an earlier column, “Socialism Is War and War Is Socialism,” this desire to turn spontaneous orders into hierarchies is characteristic of both war and socialism. It is also deeply embedded in fascism, and Sanders and Trump exemplify that tendency among the presidential candidates, though they do so with different emphases and rhetoric.

Their commonalities are also why our conventional binary left-right political spectrum makes no sense. That one candidate is perceived as far to the left and the other as (to some degree) a right-wing capitalist shows the depth of our failure to understand history. They have both rejected the spontaneous order of the market as well as the cosmopolitanism of liberalism and socialism. They are fascist brothers under the skin.

That both are getting the attention and support of so many Americans should be a matter of grave concern. After all, some clowns are far more scary than funny.

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective, now in paperback.

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.


Nixon’s Vindication – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
September 8, 2014
Forty years ago many Americans celebrated the demise of the imperial presidency with the resignation of Richard Nixon. Today it is clear they celebrated too soon. Nixon’s view of presidential powers, summed up in his infamous statement that, “when the president does it that means it is not illegal,” is embraced by the majority of the political class. In fact, the last two presidents have abused their power in ways that would have made Nixon blush.

For example, Nixon’s abuse of the Internal Revenue Service to persecute his political opponents was the subject of one of the articles of impeachment passed by the US House of Representatives. As bad as Nixon’s abuse of the IRS was, he was hardly the first president to use the IRS this way, and the present administration seems to be continuing this tradition. The targeting of Tea Party groups has received the most attention, but it is not the only instance of the IRS harassing President Barack Obama’s political opponents. For example, the IRS has demanded that one of my organizations, Campaign for Liberty, hand over information regarding its major donors.

Nixon’s abuse of federal power to spy on his “enemies” was abhorrent, but Nixon’s abuses of civil liberties pale in comparison to those of his successors. Today literally anyone in the world can be spied on, indefinitely detained, or placed on a presidential “kill list” based on nothing more than a presidential order. For all his faults, Nixon never tried to claim the power to unilaterally order anyone in the world detained or killed.

Many today act as apologists for the imperial presidency. One reason for this is that many politicians place partisan concerns above loyalty to the Constitution. Thus, they openly defend, and even celebrate, executive branch power grabs when made by a president of their own party.

Another reason is the bipartisan consensus in support of the warfare state. Many politicians and intellectuals in both parties support an imperial presidency because they recognize that the Founders’ vision of a limited executive branch is incompatible with an aggressive foreign policy. When Republicans are in power “neoconservatives” take the lead, while when Democrats are in power “humanitarian interventionists” take the lead. Regardless of party or ideological label, they share the same goal — to protect the executive branch from being constrained by the constitutional requirement that the president seek congressional approval before waging war.

The strength of the bipartisan consensus that the president should have limitless discretion in committing troops to war is illustrated by the failure of an attempt to add an article dealing with Nixon’s “secret bombing” of Cambodia to the articles of impeachment. Even at the low point of support for the imperial presidency, Congress still refused to rein in the president’s war-making powers.

The failure to include the Cambodia invasion in the articles of impeachment may well be the main reason Watergate had little to do with reining in the imperial presidency. Because the imperial presidency is rooted in the war power, attempts to rein in the imperial presidency that do not work to restore Congress’ constitutional authority to declare war are doomed to fail.

Repealing Nixon’s legacy requires building a new bipartisan coalition in favor of peace and civil liberties, rejecting what writer Gene Healy calls “the cult of the presidency,” and placing loyalty to the Constitution above partisanship. An important step must be restoring congressional supremacy in matters of war and peace.

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

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


Congress Defers to President On NSA Reform – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
January 12, 2014
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Congress’s decline from the Founders’ vision as “first among equals” in government to an echo chamber of the unitary executive, has been a slow but steady process. In the process we have seen a steady stream of unconstitutional wars and civil-liberties abuses at home. Nowhere is this decline more evident than in the stark contrast between the Congressional response to intelligence agencies’ abuses during the post-Watergate era and its response to the far more serious NSA abuses uncovered in recent years.In 1975, Senator Frank Church (D-ID) convened an historic select committee to investigate the US intelligence services for possible criminality in the wake of Watergate. Thanks in part to reporting by Seymour Hersh and others, abuses by the CIA, NSA, and FBI had come to light, including the monitoring of US peace activists.The Church Committee played its proper Congressional role, checking the power of the executive branch as it had been spiraling out of control since the 1950s and the early CIA covert action programs. The Committee sought to protect US citizens against abuses by their government after those abuses had come to light through leaks of secret government documents.

The parallel to the present NSA scandals cannot be ignored. What is completely different, however, is that Congress is today acting as an advocate for the executive branch’s continuing abuses, and as an opponent to the civil liberties of US citizens. Not only has Congress – with a precious few exceptions – accepted the NSA’s mass spying program on American citizens, it has actually been encouraging the president to continue and expand the program!

Where once there was a Congressional committee to challenge and oppose the president’s abuse of power, today the president himself has been even allowed by a complacent Congress to hand pick his own NSA review commission!

Are we really expected to believe that a commission appointed by the president to look into the activities of the president’s intelligence services will come to anything more than a few superficial changes to give the impression of real reform?

One of the president’s commission recommendations is that the NSA cease holding our phone records and demand that the private phone companies retain those records instead – for the NSA to access as it wishes. This is supposed to be reform?

The president will make a speech this Friday to tell the rest of us which of the suggestions made by his own commission he will decide to implement. Congress has no problem with that. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) admitted last week that Congress has no intention of asserting itself in the process. “It’s my hope that [Obama will] do as much as he can through the executive process because the legislative process will be difficult, perilous and long.”

Senator Church famously said back in 1975:

In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air… We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left… There would be no place to hide…. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Have we reached that point? Let us hope not. Real reform begins with the repeal of the PATRIOT Act and of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. If we keep our eye on that goal and not allow ourselves to become distracted with the president’s phony commissions we might force Congress to listen.

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

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


An Opening to Iran? – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
October 6, 2013
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Last week, for the first time since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the US president spoke with his Iranian counterpart. Their 15-minute telephone call was reported to open the door to further high-level discussions. This is a very important event.I have been saying for years that we should just talk to the Iranians. After all, we talked to the Soviets when they actually had thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at us! The Iranians have none, according to our own intelligence services. I even suggested a few years ago that we should “offer friendship” to them. Unfortunately, so many so-called experts have a stake in keeping tensions high and pushing us to war. They did not want to hear what I was saying. It seems, though, this is beginning to change now with these recent events.

The phone call was one of the most important moves away from war and conflict in a long time. Taken with the Obama administration’s decision to hold off on bombing Syria, we should be encouraged.

It is also probably a good sign that this phone call has infuriated the neoconservatives at home, the pro-war faction in Israel, and the hard-liners in Iran. Now that a process of negotiation has begun, the chance of war has been significantly reduced. The US is very unlikely to bomb Iran while it is talking with them, and Israel is also unlikely to start a war while the US is at the negotiating table with the Iranian leadership.

But we should also remain very cautious. Obama’s war on Syria was only stopped because the American people finally stood up and said “enough.” The message was received loud and clear and it shocked the neocons pushing war. They were used to being in charge of foreign policy.

In a recent CNN poll, more than 75% of Americans favored negotiations with Iran. This is very good news, but those pushing for war will not give up that easily. Believe it or not, some Members of Congress have recently introduced legislation to authorize war on Iran – even as these first steps toward a peaceful resolution of our differences begin to bear fruit!

So no, they will not give up that easily. There are many in the president’s own Cabinet who do not want to see US/Iranian relations improve. Even the president himself seems unable to avoid provocative statements — such as his claim that the Iranians are only willing to talk because the sanctions have been so successful in bringing them to the table. That is a false and unnecessary boast, and if he continues in such a way he will destroy what progress has been made.

But we are in the majority now. There are more than three-quarters of us who do not want war on Iran. It is essential that we keep the pressure on the Administration to ignore the war demands in both political parties and among the so-called foreign policy experts. There will be much more war propaganda coming our way as the warmongers get more desperate. Americans must see this propaganda for what it is. They should educate themselves and become familiar with alternative news sources to gain the tools to counter the propaganda. We do have a better chance at peace, but this is no time to let down our guard!

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

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


Libertarian Democrat: When New York Produced Giants for Liberty – Article by Lawrence W. Reed

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Lawrence W. Reed
August 18, 2013
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The idea pervades the bill that severe penalties will secure enforcement; but all experience shows that undue severity of laws defeats their execution … [N]o law can be sustained which goes beyond public feeling and sentiment. All experience shows that temperance, like other virtues, is not produced by lawmakers, but by the influences of education, morality and religion. Men may be persuaded—they cannot be compelled—to adopt habits of temperance.

—Horatio Seymour, 1854

This essay is about a long-forgotten New Yorker who served in his state’s legislature and twice as governor, then nearly became President of the United States. Much respected, even beloved by many in his day, his name was Horatio Seymour. He deserves to be dusted off and appreciated now, almost 130 years since his death. But first, some context.

The Democratic Party in the state of New York these days is about as “liberal” (in the twentieth-century, American sense of the term) as it gets. On economic issues in particular, it is reliably statist, meaning it rarely deviates from the “more government is the answer” mentality, no matter how strongly logic or evidence point elsewhere. But not so long ago, New York’s Democrats were largely of the opposite persuasion. They were often what we now would call “classical liberals,” ardent skeptics of the concentration of power. Classical liberals really believed in liberty; today’s liberals really don’t.

Local and national Democratic Party organizations today host “Jefferson-Jackson Day” dinners in honor of two of the party’s early representatives. If Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson could stop in for a drink, it’s not likely that either one of them would recognize their party after all these years. Arguably, they’d be horrified enough to resign their memberships. My guess is that Jackson would become an Independent while Jefferson would bolt for the Libertarians.

New York City in the 1830s was the birthplace of the Locofocos, the most principled libertarians the Democratic Party ever produced. Their opposition to subsidies, high tariffs, special favors, fiat money, and interventionist government helped keep the state and national party on the right side of liberty until the silver-tongued currency crank William Jennings Bryan came along in 1896.

Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s successor, was a New York Democrat. Economist and historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel argues that Van Buren may be the most libertarian of all the American presidents.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Democrats fought the Whigs, who stood for a Hamiltonian big government that would dispense privilege and corporate welfare, jack up tariffs, and centralize banking. When the Republicans picked up the mantle of the Whigs in the late 1850s, Democrats opposed them for the same reasons. With the exception of Horace Greeley, the most pro-liberty presidential candidates in the thirty years after the Civil War were the Democratic nominees who didn’t win (Seymour, Tilden, and Hancock). The only Democrat to actually capture the White House between 1865 and 1912—Grover Cleveland, born in New Jersey but a New Yorker most of his life and governor of the state—was arguably one of the very best and most pro-liberty presidents of the 44 we’ve had.

New York was home also to eight-term congressman Bourke Cockran, who emerged in the 1890s as one of the staunchest and most eloquent defenders of Jeffersonian liberty Americans ever sent to Washington from anywhere.

But something happened to the Democratic Party in the years between Cleveland and the next Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson—my personal choice for the worst of all presidents. That sad turn of events is a story for another day. Allow me now to return to my primary subject, Horatio Seymour.

Seymour wrote those words at the top of this essay. They were part of his 1854 veto of one of the earliest alcohol prohibition measures that made it to a governor’s desk. If the wisdom of that veto message had been heeded 65 years later, America would have been spared the imbecility of Prohibition. So, too, it could have saved us from compounding that destructive error with a futile, expensive, and tyrannical War on Drugs in more recent decades. His view on Prohibition was indicative of his general perspective on the role of government in our lives. He was no friend of the meddlesome nanny state.

Seymour was born in 1810 in Onondaga County, New York, early in the presidency of another Jeffersonian Democrat (from Virginia), James Madison. At the age of 23, he went to Albany, where he labored for six years as military secretary to the state’s Democratic governor, William L. Marcy. There, he gained detailed knowledge of the state’s politics. In 1841 he won election to the New York State Assembly and served simultaneously as mayor of Utica from 1842 to 1843. He was elected speaker of the assembly in 1845, then governor of the state in 1852. His veto of the Prohibition bill cost him in his reelection bid, which he lost by a mere 309 votes statewide.

FEE’s senior historian, Dr. Burton Folsom (author of The Myth of the Robber Barons, New Deal or Raw Deal, and other great works) reminds me that Seymour wasn’t as solid on economic issues as New York’s Locofocos: “Seymour was from Utica, and because that town was right on the Erie Canal, he favored state-funded construction of the Erie Canal.  He also favored (though with less enthusiasm) the state funding of the eight branch canals, all of which lost money.” Indeed, Seymour should have seen the logical inconsistency of canal subsidies and small government, but such are the blemishes of politics, which is why when we grade its practitioners, we have to do so “on the curve” or most would flunk. I still see greatness in Seymour on other counts.

The country drifted inexorably toward sectional conflict for the rest of the 1850s. Out of office but an influential former governor of the most populous state, Seymour made headlines whenever he spoke. Prominent party leaders promoted him for the presidential nomination in 1856 and 1860 but he declined to run. He opposed slavery but was reluctant to go to war over either it or the question of secession. When war came in 1861, he staked out a definitive position on the Lincoln administration’s suppression of civil liberties and questionable constitutional ventures such as suspension of habeas corpus:  “Government is not strengthened by the exercise of doubtful powers, but by a wise and energetic exertion of those which are incontestable. The former course never fails to produce discord, suspicion and distrust, while the latter inspires respect and confidence.”

As the war groaned on, Seymour chastised Lincoln and the Republicans for imprisoning (without trial) thousands of dissenters who questioned the war or its conduct. He demanded to know why citizens of the North had to be warred upon by their own government. “Liberty is born in war,” he declared. “It does not die in war! I denounce the doctrine that Civil War in the South takes away from the loyal North the benefits of one principle of civil liberty!”

Defending civil liberties in the midst of a major war was a courageous stand in the 1860s. Even among the large and vocal cadre of Lincoln apologists today, it’s not kosher to bring up the seamy side of our 16th President’s policies. But in the day, some very patriotic Americans like Seymour raised serious questions that deserve attention now as they did then.

In 1862, Seymour was again elected governor of New York and was embroiled the very next year in a vigorous battle with the Lincoln administration over the military draft. He strongly opposed it as unconstitutional. He refused to pay the state’s foreign creditors in paper greenbacks, insisting instead on payment in the medium specified in the terms of the debt—gold. Defeated narrowly for reelection in 1864, Seymour resumed his prominent role as a respected elder statesman and spokesman for Democratic principles. He might have taken the presidential nomination away from George McClellan in 1864 but, as in the past, he declined many demands that he be a candidate.

With no strong Democratic contender for the presidential nomination in 1868, Seymour’s name bubbled to the top again. I’ve written elsewhere about Republican James A. Garfield as the most reluctant man ever to be elected President of the United States. Horatio Seymour is easily the most reluctant man ever to be nominated and not get elected, though he came close. Leading up to the Democratic Party convention in 1868, he declared numerous times that he would not be a candidate. He even accepted the role as permanent chairman of the convention because the very position would make it impossible to also be a candidate, but after 21 deadlocked ballots the conventioneers violated party rules and nominated Seymour anyway. He ran against Republican Ulysses S. Grant out of a sense of obligation to his party, not any lust for the job. Democrats made Francis P. Blair of Missouri his vice presidential running mate.

Almost immediately, Republicans waved “the bloody shirt,” accusing Seymour and the Democrats of treason. The Democratic nominee was a “traitor” because he had once supported secession, though he took that position purely (and in the view of this author, correctly) because the Constitution neither addressed nor forbade it. Like it or not, the notion that secession was a right of any state was a widely held perspective in both the North and the South in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Republicans vilified it for reasons of power and politics, but it was not for many decades a “radical” or unsupportable view in America, even among Northern newspaper editors.

In his superb 1938 biography, Horatio Seymour of New York, Stewart Mitchell writes that Seymour was on solid ground in arousing opposition to Republican duplicity, by which I mean claiming to be defenders of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution while trampling on the rights upheld in both. “The fact was,” according to Stewart (quoting liberally from Seymour himself), “that within ten states of the Union any American citizen who dared to quote that declaration in his own defense ‘would be tried and punished by a military tribunal.’” Moreover, “If a citizen of the state where the ashes of Washington lay buried were to remind his rulers that ‘the military should ever be subordinate to the civil authority,’ he could be ‘dragged to prison’ even from the grave of the man who wrote the declaration.”

The Seymour-Blair platform assailed the party of Lincoln and Grant in certain if not grandiloquent terms, and largely from a pro-liberty perspective. It called for restoration of a sound, metallic currency and lower tariffs. It condemned the Republican Party thusly:

It has nullified there (in the ten states occupied by federal troops) the right of trial by jury; it has abolished habeas corpus, that most sacred writ of liberty; it has overthrown the freedom of speech and of the press; it has substituted arbitrary seizures and arrests, and military trials and secret star-chamber inquisitions, for the constitutional tribunals; it has disregarded in time of peace the right of the people to be free from searches and seizures; it has entered the post and telegraph offices, and even the private rooms of individuals, and seized their private papers and letters without any specific charge or notice of affidavit, as required by the organic law; it has converted the American capitol into a Bastille; it has established a system of spies and official espionage to which no constitutional monarchy of Europe would now dare to resort; it has abolished the right of appeal, on important constitutional questions, to the Supreme Judicial tribunal, and threatens to curtail, or destroy, its original jurisdiction, which is irrevocably vested by the Constitution; while the learned Chief Justice has been subjected to the most atrocious calumnies, merely because he would not prostitute his high office to the support of the false and partisan charges preferred against the President. Its corruption and extravagance have exceeded anything known in history, and by its frauds and monopolies it has nearly doubled the burden of the debt created by the war; it has stripped the President of his constitutional power of appointment, even of his own Cabinet. Under its repeated assaults the pillars of the government are rocking on their base, and should it succeed in November next and inaugurate its President, we will meet, as a subjected and conquered people, amid the ruins of liberty and the scattered fragments of the Constitution.

Grant easily won the election in the Electoral College, 214 to 80, but the popular vote was a different story. There the margin was less than six points, as Grant bested Seymour 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent. With Grant’s troops occupying most Southern states, controlling many polling stations and actively disenfranchising significant numbers of Southern whites whose votes would likely have gone Democratic, Seymour’s 47.3 percent seems all the more remarkable.

In his 1944 book about losing presidential contenders, They Also Ran, Irving Stone described Seymour as “one of the most intelligent, high-minded and able statesmen produced in America since the creators of the Constitution.” He argued that Seymour’s gentle character likely would have made him an excellent president, “the most logical figure in the country to bind the wounds of the war and wipe out the bitterness.” But alas, he didn’t get the chance.

Seymour never ran for office again after 1868 and turned down a guaranteed seat in the U.S. Senate, two more likely nominations for governor, and even two strong efforts to nominate him for the presidency in both 1876 and 1880. He may hold the record in American history for turning down more opportunities for high office than anyone else. His last political activity was to campaign for Grover Cleveland in 1884. He lived long enough to see Cleveland elected as the first Democrat since James Buchanan. Seymour died in February 1886 at the age of 75 and is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica, New York.

Horatio Seymour, a significant figure and friend of liberty in his day, is remembered by few and appreciated by even fewer. We should not treat the good men of our past this way.

The author wishes to thank Mr. John Chodes of New York, a longtime FEE supporter, for his tireless efforts to remind his state and nation of the important contributions of his fellow New Yorker, Horatio Seymour.

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in 2008. Prior to that, he was a founder and president for twenty years of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan. He also taught Economics full-time and chaired the Department of Economics at Northwood University in Michigan from 1977 to 1984.

He holds a B.A. degree in Economics from Grove City College (1975) and an M.A. degree in History from Slippery Rock State University (1978), both in Pennsylvania. He holds two honorary doctorates, one from Central Michigan University (Public Administration—1993) and Northwood University (Laws—2008).

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.


The IRS’s Job Is To Violate Our Liberties – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
May 21, 2013
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“What do you expect when you target the President?” This is what an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent allegedly said to the head of a conservative organization that was being audited after calling for the impeachment of then-President Clinton. Recent revelations that IRS agents gave “special scrutiny” to organizations opposed to the current administration’s policies suggest that many in the IRS still believe harassing the President’s opponents is part of their job.

As troubling as these recent reports are, it would be a grave mistake to think that IRS harassment of opponents of the incumbent President is a modern, or a partisan, phenomenon. As scholar Burton Folsom pointed out in his book New Deal or Raw Deal, IRS agents in the 1930s where essentially “hit squads” against opponents of the New Deal. It is well-known that the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson used the IRS to silence their critics. One of the articles of impeachment drawn up against Richard Nixon dealt with his use of the IRS to harass his political enemies. Allegations of IRS abuses were common during the Clinton administration, and just this week some of the current administration’s defenders recalled that antiwar and progressive groups alleged harassment by the IRS during the Bush presidency.

The bipartisan tradition of using the IRS as a tool to harass political opponents suggests that the problem is deeper than just a few “rogue” IRS agents—or even corruption within one, two, three, or many administrations. Instead, the problem lies in the extraordinary power the tax system grants the IRS.

The IRS routinely obtains information about how we earn a living, what investments we make, what we spend on ourselves and our families, and even what charitable and religious organizations we support. Starting next year, the IRS will be collecting personally identifiable health insurance information in order to ensure we are complying with Obamacare’s mandates.

The current tax laws even give the IRS power to marginalize any educational, political, or even religious organizations whose goals, beliefs, and values are not favored by the current regime by denying those organizations “tax-free” status. This is the root of the latest scandal involving the IRS.

Considering the type of power the IRS excises over the American people, and the propensity of those who hold power to violate liberty, it is surprising we do not hear about more cases of politically motivated IRS harassment. As the third US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall said, “The power to tax is the power to destroy” — and whom better to destroy than one’s political enemies?

The US flourished for over 120 years without an income tax, and our liberty and prosperity will only benefit from getting rid of the current tax system. The federal government will get along just fine without its immoral claim on the fruits of our labor, particularly if the elimination of federal income taxes is accompanied by serious reduction in all areas of spending, starting with the military spending beloved by so many who claim to be opponents of high taxes and big government.

While it is important for Congress to investigate the most recent scandal and ensure all involved are held accountable, we cannot pretend that the problem is a few bad actors. The very purpose of the IRS is to transfer wealth from one group to another while violating our liberties in the process. Thus, the only way Congress can protect our freedoms is to repeal the income tax and shutter the doors of the IRS once and for all.

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

This article is reprinted with permission.


What No One Wants to Hear About Benghazi – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
May 18, 2013
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Congressional hearings, White House damage control, endless op-eds, accusations, and defensive denials. Controversy over the events in Benghazi last September took center stage in Washington and elsewhere last week. However, the whole discussion is again more of a sideshow. Each side seeks to score political points instead of asking the real questions about the attack on the US facility, which resulted in the death of US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Republicans smell a political opportunity over evidence that the Administration heavily edited initial intelligence community talking points about the attack to remove or soften anything that might reflect badly on the president or the State Department.

Are we are supposed to be shocked by such behavior? Are we supposed to forget that this kind of whitewashing of facts is standard operating procedure when it comes to the US government?

Democrats in Congress have offered the even less convincing explanation for Benghazi, that somehow the attack occurred due to Republican-sponsored cuts in the security budget at facilities overseas. With a one- trillion-dollar military budget, it is hard to take this seriously.

It appears that the Administration scrubbed initial intelligence reports of references to extremist Islamist involvement in the attacks, preferring to craft a lie that the demonstrations were a spontaneous response to an anti-Islamic video that developed into a full-out attack on the US outpost.

Who can blame the administration for wanting to shift the focus? The Islamic radicals who attacked Benghazi were the same people let loose by the US-led attack on Libya. They were the rebels on whose behalf the US overthrew the Libyan government. Ambassador Stevens was slain by the same Islamic radicals he personally assisted just over one year earlier.

But the Republicans in Congress also want to shift the blame. They supported the Obama Administration’s policy of bombing Libya and overthrowing its government. They also repeated the same manufactured claims that Gaddafi was “killing his own people” and was about to commit mass genocide if he were not stopped. Republicans want to draw attention to the President’s editing of talking points in hopes no one will notice that if the attack on Libya they supported had not taken place, Ambassador Stevens would be alive today.

Neither side wants to talk about the real lesson of Benghazi: interventionism always carries with it unintended consequences. The US attack on Libya led to the unleashing of Islamist radicals in Libya. These radicals have destroyed the country, murdered thousands, and killed the US ambassador. Some of these then turned their attention to Mali, which required another intervention by the US and France.

Previously secure weapons in Libya flooded the region after the US attack, with many of them going to Islamist radicals who make up the majority of those fighting to overthrow the government in Syria. The US government has intervened in the Syrian conflict on behalf of the same rebels it assisted in the Libya conflict, likely helping with the weapons transfers. With word out that these rebels are mostly affiliated with al Qaeda, the US is now intervening to persuade some factions of the Syrian rebels to kill other factions before completing the task of ousting the Syrian government. It is the dizzying cycle of interventionism.

The real lesson of Benghazi will not be learned because neither Republicans nor Democrats want to hear it. But it is our interventionist foreign policy and its unintended consequences that have created these problems, including the attack and murder of Ambassador Stevens. The disputed talking points and White House whitewashing are just a sideshow.

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

This article is reprinted with permission.

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