Mises Wire

The Freedom Crisis

[This talk was delivered at the Mises Institute’s 2018 Ron Paul-Mises Circle In Lake Jackson, Texas.]

There is a crisis, and only you, and people like you, can get us out of it.

What is this crisis? On the one hand, the statist order is collapsing all around us. America is mired in a futile war in Afghanistan. A belligerent policy toward Iran threatens to bring about a new war in the Middle East. And let’s not forget about North Korea, where the danger of a nuclear war is by no means over.

On the domestic front, the Fed continues the manipulation of our economy which led to the 2008 crisis. Government debt is rising to an unprecedented level.

Thanks to the works of great thinkers and scholars like Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard, we know the solution to the problems that the State causes. Freedom is the answer. Only a completely free market economy and a non–interventionist foreign policy can solve our problems.

And people want to hear our message. The magnificent success of Dr. Ron Paul inspires all of us. His books, including End the Fed and The Revolution: A Manifesto, are best sellers.

Now we are in a position to understand the crisis I spoke about earlier. Freedom means the right to hold controversial, un-PC opinions, and to act on these opinions, so long as you don’t commit aggression. But today the lunatic left is trying to suppress those who hold opinions like ours. If they had their way, we would be completely silenced. Unfortunately, there are so-called left “libertarians” who have joined this campaign of suppression. They demand that libertarians embrace the complete PC agenda. It is because of this sad situation that we need to support alternative media.

Here is a sample of what we are up against. Jeremy Waldron is a well-known legal academic who has taught at Oxford and now teaches at NYU Law School. In The Harm in Hate Speech, he calls for suppression of so-called “hate speech,” which really means anything that is un-PC.

Hate speech, Waldron tells, us, consists of “publications which express profound disrespect, hatred, and vilification for the members of minority groups”

Why should we restrict hate speech? Waldron says it is like environmental pollution:

tiny impacts of millions of actions — each apparently inconsiderable in itself — can produce a large-scale toxic effect that, even at the mass level, operates insidiously as a sort of slow-acting poison, and that regulations have to be aimed at individual actions with that scale and that pace of causation in mind.

But why does contagion operate only with bad effects? Will not the cumulative effects of a series of individual encounters in which members of minority groups are treated with equal respect generate a positive atmosphere of assurance, in precisely the same way that Waldron postulates for the amassing of hate messages? Waldron assumes without argument a quasi–Gresham’s law of public opinion, in which bad opinion drives out good.

But which process, the one that produces a positive atmosphere of assurance or the one that arouses Waldron to concern, will in fact prove the stronger? One reason to think that it is the good one is this. Waldron, in response to the charge that hate-speech laws suppress legitimate issues of controversy, notes that some matters are beyond dispute; an established consensus supports them:

Suppose someone puts up posters conveying the opinion that people from Africa are nonhuman primates.… Maybe there was a time when social policy generally … could not adequately be debated without raising the whole issue of race in this sense. But that is not our situation today.… In fact, the fundamental debate about race is over — won, finished. There are outlying dissenters, a few crazies who say they believe that people of African descent are an inferior form of animal; but for half a century or more, we have moved forward as a society on the premise that this is no longer a matter of serious contestation.

If Waldron is right, and only a “few crazies” believe the hateful doctrine, why is he so much in fear of the malign effects of allowing these people to publish their views unmolested by the State?

To be frank, I think that Waldron at times proceeds in a very unfair way. He says, in effect, to the opponents of hate-speech laws, “You say that you are willing to put up with the evils of hate speech in order to preserve the good of unhindered free speech. But you are not, in most cases, the ones who will suffer from hate speech. Why are you entitled, without evidence, to brush aside the suffering of those whom hate speech targets?”

That is not in itself an unreasonable question, but Waldron ignores one vital issue. He is endeavoring to make a case for the regulation of hate speech. He cannot then fairly shift the burden of proof entirely to the side of his opponents, saying to them, “prove that hate speech does not much affect its victims.” It is for him to show that hate speech in fact has the dire effects he attributes to it. It is not out of the question that such speech sometimes does have bad effects, but it would seem obvious that we have here an empirical issue, one that requires the citation of evidence. Waldron so far as I can see fails to offer any, preferring instead to conjure up pictures of people who, seeing or hearing examples of hate speech, recall horrid scenes of past persecution. To what extent do people actually suffer from hate speech? Waldron shows little interest in finding out. 

Waldron presents these hate-crime laws as if they limited only extreme expression of hate, e.g., suggestions that people in certain groups are subhuman or need to be forcibly expelled from society, if not done away with altogether

He says, “Does this [the requirement that we treat everyone with dignity] mean that individuals are required to accord equal respect to all their fellow citizens? Does it mean they are not permitted to esteem some and despise others? That proposition seems counterintuitive. Much of our moral and political life involves differentiation of respect.”

Hate-speech laws, Waldron says, do not ignore our rights to prefer some people to others. We further remain free to criticize minority groups, so long as we do not stray into the forbidden territory of outright hatred and denigration.

Waldron is not being honest here. Laws of the type Waldron champions have often been used to suppress not just vituperation but all sorts of un-PC opinions. For example, as James Kalb notes in his outstanding The Tyranny of Liberalism, “the High Court in Britain [in 2004] upheld the conviction and firing of an elderly preacher who held up a sign in a town square calling for an end to homosexuality, lesbianism, and immorality and was thrown to the ground and pelted with dirt and water by an angry crowd.

Those wishing further examples of how these laws work in practice may with profit consult the penetrating studies of Paul Gottfried, e.g., After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State and Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt . Here we are dealing not with a matter of speculative psychology but of incontrovertible fact.

Those who want to suppress speech complain about “racism,” but what do they mean by that buzzword? I want to look at two words that the State and its hangers-on have employed with much success on behalf of increases in government power. One is racism. The other is equality.

What exactly is racism? We almost never hear a definition. I doubt anyone really knows what it is. If you’re inclined to dispute this, ask yourself why, if racism truly is something clear and determinate, there is such ceaseless disagreement over which thoughts and behaviors are racist and which are not?

If put on the spot, the average person would probably define racism along the lines of how Murray N. Rothbard defined anti-Semitism, involving hatred and/or the intention to carry out violence, whether State-directed or otherwise, against the despised group:

It seems to me that there are only two supportable and defensible definitions of anti-Semitism: one, focusing on the subjective mental State of the person, and the other “objectively,” on the actions he undertakes or the policies he advocates. For the first, the best definition of anti-Semitism is simple and conclusive: a person who hates all Jews….

How, unless we are someone’s close friend, or shrink, can we know what lies in a person’s heart? Perhaps then the focus should be, not on the subject’s State of heart or mind, but on a proposition that can be checked by observers who don’t know the man personally. In that case, we should focus on the objective rather than the subjective, that is the person’s actions or advocacies. Well, in that case, the only rational definition of an anti-Semite is one who advocates political, legal, economic, or social disabilities to be levied against Jews (or, of course, has participated in imposing them).

This, then, seems reasonable: (1) someone is a racist if he hates a particular racial group, but (2) since we can’t read people’s minds, and since accusing people of hating an entire group of people is a fairly serious charge, instead of vainly trying to read the suspect’s mind we ought instead to see if he favors special disabilities against the group in question.

Back to Rothbard:  

But am I not redefining anti-Semitism out of existence? Certainly not. On the subjective definition, by the very nature of the situation, I don’t know any such people, and I doubt whether the Smear Bund does either. On the objective definition, where outsiders can have greater knowledge, and setting aside clear-cut anti-Semites of the past, there are in modern America authentic anti-Semites: groups such as the Christian Identity movement, or the Aryan Resistance, or the author of the novel Turner’s Diaries. But these are marginal groups, you say, of no account and not worth worrying about? Yes, fella, and that is precisely the point.

On the other hand, maybe a racist is someone who believes different groups tend to have common characteristics, even while acknowledging the axiomatic point that each individual person is unique. But whether it’s family structure, a penchant for alcoholism, a reputation for hard work, or a great many other qualities, Thomas Sowell has assembled a vast body of work showing that these traits are not even close to being distributed equally across populations.

The Chinese, for example, gained reputations in countries all over the world for working very hard, often under especially difficult conditions. (As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons American labor unions despised Chinese workers in the nineteenth century.) By the mid-20th century, the Chinese minority dominated major sectors of the Malaysian economy even though they were officially discriminated against in the Malaysian constitution, and earned twice the income of the average Malay. They owned the vast majority of the rice mills in Thailand and the Philippines. They conducted more than 70 percent of the retail trade in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

We could tell a similar story about Armenians in various parts of the world, as well as Jews and East Indians. Japanese-Americans went from being so badly discriminated against that they were confined to camps during World War II to equaling whites in income by 1959 and exceeding whites in income a decade later by one-third.

Likewise for Germans, whose reputations and accomplishments in craftsmanship, science, and technology have been evident not only in Germany but also among Germans in the U.S., Brazil, Australia, Czechoslovakia, and Chile. They had more prosperous farms than Brazilian farmers in Brazil, Russian farmers in Russia, and Chilean farmers in Chile.

Jews earn higher incomes than Hispanics in the US; this, we are solemnly told, is the result of discrimination. Oh, really? As Sowell points out, how then are we to explain why Jews earn higher incomes than Hispanics in Hispanic countries?

According to the inane rules governing American society, Sowell, being black himself, is permitted to discuss such phenomena, while the rest of us face demonization, destroyed careers, and ruined reputations should we make note of any of this forbidden testimony.

In order not to be suspected of racism, therefore, one must play it as safe as possible by at least pretending to believe the following propositions:

  • Income disparities among groups are explainable entirely or in very large part by discrimination;
  • If a minority group is “underrepresented” in a particular profession, the cause must be racism;
  • If minority students are disproportionately disciplined in school, the cause must be racism, even when the teachers involved themselves belong to the same minority group;
  • If test scores – both in school and in the private sector – differ by racial group, this is evidence that the tests are culturally biased, even though the questions showing the greatest disparity happen to have the least cultural content.

Not one of these statements is defensible, needless to say, but every one of them must be believed. Skeptics are, of course, racist. 

The following opinions or propositions have all been declared racist at one point or another, by one source or another:

  • Affirmative action is undesirable;
  • Antidiscrimination law is a violation of private property rights and freedom of contract;
  • Brown v. Board of Education was based on faulty reasoning;
  • The extent of racism in American society is exaggerated.

There are many grounds on which one could advance these claims. But since according to popular left-wing sites like Daily Kos, ThinkProgress, and Media Matters it is racist to believe in any of them, it doesn’t matter what your arguments are. You are a racist. Protest all you like, but the more you try, the more the commissars smear and ridicule you. You may pretend that you have logically sound and morally unimpeachable reasons for your views, but this is all a smokescreen for racism as far as the commissars are concerned. The only way you can satisfy them now is by abandoning your views (and even then they’ll still question your sincerity), even though you do not hold them on disreputable grounds.

Thus charges of racism nearly always involve attempted mind reading – e.g., that person claims to oppose anti-discrimination law out of some kind of principle, but we know it’s because he’s a racist .

To see libertarians, who of course should know better, jumping on the thought-control bandwagon, or pretending that the whole issue is about the freedom to be a jerk, is extremely short-sighted and most unfortunate. The State uses the racism racket as justification for its further extension of power over education, employment, wealth redistribution, and a good deal else. Meanwhile, it silences critics of State violence with its magic, never-defined word racism, an accusation the critic has to spend the rest of his life trying to disprove, only to discover that the race hustlers will not lift the curse until he utterly abases himself and repudiates his entire philosophy.

If he tries to defend himself by protesting that he has close friends who belong to the group he is accused of hating, he’ll be ridiculed more than ever. Here’s Rothbard again:

I also want to embellish a point: All my life, I have heard anti-anti-Semites sneer at Gentiles who, defending themselves against the charge of anti-Semitism, protest that “some of my best friends are Jews.” This phrase is always sneered at, as if easy ridicule is a refutation of the argument. But it seems to me that ridicule is habitually used here, precisely because the argument is conclusive. If some of Mr. X’s best friends are indeed Jews, it is absurd and self-contradictory to claim that he is anti-Semitic. And that should be that.

It’s hard to argue with Rothbard here. If someone had been accused of disliking ground beef, but it could be shown that he very much enjoyed hamburgers and goulash, that would pretty much demolish the accusation, wouldn’t it?

I know no one who hates entire groups, and those people who do are in such a tiny minority that their organizations are equal parts lunatic and FBI informant. Likewise, I know no one who favors the use of official violence against particular groups.

We should want to treat people justly and with respect, of course. Any decent person feels that way. But how and why does “equality” enter the picture, except in the trivial and obvious libertarian sense that we should all equally refrain from aggression against one another?

The State likes nothing more than to declare war on drugs, or terrorism, or poverty, or “inequality.” The State loves “equality” as an organizing principle, because it can never be achieved. In the course of trying, the State acquires ever more power over ever more practices and institutions. Anyone who questions the premise of equality is hectored out of polite society. Quite a racket, this, and certainly no place for libertarians to be.  

If it’s material equality we want, it would vanish the moment after we achieved it, as soon as people resumed their normal spending patterns and the goods and services offered by some people were more highly valued than those offered by others. If it’s “equality of opportunity,” then we would have to abolish the family, as so many socialist schemes have seriously contemplated, since conditions in the household play such an important role in children’s success.

Yes, of course we oppose the inequality that results from special State privilege enjoyed by certain people and groups. But the real issue there isn’t inequality per se, but justice and private property.

Even the old saw about equality in the eyes of God isn’t quite right. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, the Catholic classical liberal, noted that Judas, who betrayed Christ, was in no way the “equal” of St. John, the beloved disciple, and that the origins of “equality” lay in Lucifer’s urge to be the equal of Christ. He added:

Egalitarianism under the best circumstances becomes hypocrisy; if sincerely accepted and believed in, its menace is greater. Then all actual inequalities appear without exception to be unjust, immoral, intolerable. Hatred, unhappiness, tension, a general maladjustment is the result. The situation is even worse when brutal efforts are made to establish equality through a process of artificial leveling (‘social engineering’) which can only be done by force, restrictions, or terror, and the outcome is a complete loss of liberty.

If we want to be free, therefore, we must shun the State, its methods, and its language.

As I mentioned before, left “libertarians” want to purge anti-PC opinions from the freedom movement. Their efforts bring to mind William Buckley’s efforts to fashion a CIA-controlled “conservatism,” purged of any ideas dangerous to the State.

The great Murray Rothbard responded to Buckley. Writing in 1992, he said: With almost blitzkrieg swiftness, by the early 1960s, the new global crusading conservative movement, transformed and headed by Bill Buckley, was almost ready to take power in America. But not quite, because first, all the various heretics of the Right — some left over from the Original Right — all the groups that were in any way radical or could deprive the new conservative movement of its much-desired respectability in the eyes of the liberal and centrist elite, all these had to be jettisoned. Only such a denatured, respectable, nonradical, conserving right was worthy of power.

And so the purges began. One after another, Buckley and the National Review purged and excommunicated all the radicals, all the nonrespectables. Consider the roll call: isolationists (such as John T. Flynn), anti-Zionists, libertarians, Ayn Randians, the John Birch Society, and all those who continued, like the early National Review, to dare to oppose Martin Luther King and the civil-rights revolution after Buckley had changed and decided to embrace it.” But if, by the middle and late 1960s, Buckley had purged the conservative movement of the genuine Right, he also hastened to embrace any group that proclaimed its hard anticommunism, or rather anti-Sovietism or anti-Stalinism.

And of course the first anti-Stalinists were the devotees of the martyred communist Leon Trotsky. And so the conservative movement, while purging itself of genuine right-wingers, was happy to embrace anyone, any variety of Marxist: Trotskyites, Schachtmanites, Mensheviks, social democrats (such as grouped around the magazine the New Leader), Lovestonite theoreticians of the American Federation of Labor, extreme right-wing Marxists like the incredibly beloved Sidney Hook — anyone who could present not antisocialist but suitably anti-Soviet, anti-Stalinist credentials.”

Murray did not agree with supposed “experts” who presume to tell the rest of us what opinions we are permitted to hold. He said: 

In past centuries, the churches constituted the exclusive opinion-molding classes in the society. Hence the importance to the State and its rulers of an established church, and the importance to libertarians of the concept of separating church and State, which really means not allowing the State to confer upon one group a monopoly of the opinion-molding function.

In the 20th century, of course, the church has been replaced in its opinion-molding role, or, in that lovely phrase, the “engineering of consent,” by a swarm of intellectuals, academics, social scientists, technocrats, policy scientists, social workers, journalists and the media generally, and on and on. Often included, for old times’ sake, so to speak, is a sprinkling of social gospel ministers and counselors from the mainstream churches.

So, to sum up: the problem is that the bad guys, the ruling classes, have gathered unto themselves the intellectual and media elites, who are able to bamboozle the masses into consenting to their rule, to indoctrinate them, as the Marxists would say, with “false consciousness.” What can we, the right-wing opposition, do about it?

And so the proper strategy for the right wing must be what we can call “right-wing populism”: exciting, dynamic, tough, and confrontational, rousing and inspiring not only the exploited masses, but the often-shell-shocked right-wing intellectual cadre as well. And in this era where the intellectual and media elites are all establishment liberal-conservatives, all in a deep sense one variety or another of social democrat, all bitterly hostile to a genuine Right, we need a dynamic, charismatic leader who has the ability to short-circuit the media elites, and to reach and rouse the masses directly. We need a leadership that can reach the masses and cut through the crippling and distorting hermeneutical fog spread by the media elites.”

The speakers at this conference stand firmly with Rothbard in rejecting the lies foisted on us by the court intellectuals. Instead, they are not afraid to call attention to alternative facts and perspectives that the elites don’t want us to know. Daniel McAdams at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity has again and again brought to our attention facts about Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and NATO that support a noninterventionist foreign policy. Scott Horton has been a trenchant critic of war. Debra Medina saw her political career come to an end because she was skeptical about the official story of the 9-11 attack. Finally, we at the Mises Institute try through our educational programs and unparalleled web library to spread the philosophy of freedom as best we can.

I’d like to say a few words about the founding of the Mises Institute and of LewRockwell.com.

Thirty-six years ago, I wanted to do what I could to promote the Austrian School in general and the life and work of Mises in particular.

I first approached Mises’s widow, Margit. She agreed to be involved and to share her counsel as long as I pledged to dedicate the rest of my life to the Institute. I have kept that pledge. Margit von Mises became our first chairman. How lucky we were to have as her successor, the great libertarian businessman Burt Blumert, who was also a wise advisor from the beginning.

When I told Murray Rothbard about the proposed institute, he clapped his hands with glee. He became our academic vice-president and inspiration.

Ron Paul agreed to become our distinguished counsellor, and was also a huge help in assembling our early funding, as well as an inspiration. Other great men like F.A. Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Lawrence Fertig, and Hans Sennholz were fervent supporters. I was surrounded by giants.

Murray would later say, “Without the founding of the Mises Institute, I am convinced the whole Misesian program would have collapsed.” Of course, we can’t know how things would have turned out had we made different choices. I simply wanted to do what I could, with the help of dear friends like Murray and Burt, to support the Austrian School during some very dark times, and I was prepared to let the chips fall where they may.

When I look back on all we’ve accomplished over the past 36 years, I can hardly believe it. Naturally we’ve promoted and kept in print works of Mises, the Nobel Prize-winning works of F.A. Hayek, and the indispensable catalogue of Murray Rothbard. Beyond that, we’ve made available to the world, free of charge, an enormous library of the most brilliant and important works ever written on Austrian economics and libertarian theory.

On our campus, the library and archives – based on the massive collections of Rothbard and Bob LeFevre’s Freedom School – are incomparable. We have lecture halls, classrooms, student and faculty offices, student housing, a bookstore, and much more, all thanks to our magnificent donors.  

Then there’s the entire run of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (which the Institute publishes), its predecessor, the Review of Austrian Economics, Murray Rothbard’s Journal of Libertarian Studies, and the publications that he edited during the especially dark days of the 1960s and 1970s. Add to that many thousands of articles on every subject under the sun and thousands of hours of free audio and video from our seminars and other events, and you have a program of self-education that at one time would have required access to university libraries and a huge investment of time and money.

When I founded LRC in 1999, our slogan was “Anti-State, Anti-War, Pro-Market” and this remains our slogan today. Another way to sum up that slogan is to say that LRC is pro-liberty. Our aim is to present journalism, commentary, and scholarship that embodies the libertarian ideal — deepening, refining, and applying it across a full range of economic, political, and cultural issues.

Everyone claims to believe in liberty, so what’s so controversial? The liberty LRC believes in is both unleashed and constrained by the right to private property as a core principle, and hence it embraces capitalism. It is guarded by a decentralized system of law enforcement, and hence favors subsidiarity and self-determination. It is historically rooted in American tradition dating back to the colonial tradition through the wonderful American revolution, which LRC believes represented a just overthrow of the state.

All of the speakers at this conference stand firmly against the “tutelary power” described in this classic passage by Tocqueville:

Over these [citizens] is elevated an immense, tutelary power, which takes sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate. It is absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident, and gentle. … It works willingly for their happiness, but it wishes to be the only agent and the sole arbiter of that happiness. It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principal affairs, directs their testaments, divides their inheritances. … In this fashion, every day, it renders the employment of free will less useful and more rare; it confines the action of the will within a smaller space and bit by bit it steals from each citizen the use of that which is his own. Equality has prepared men for all of these things: it has disposed them to put up with them and often even to regard them as a benefit.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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