Some years ago, the liberal writer Michael Kinsley described the different attitudes to free speech in the U.K. and the U.S. as follows: “In a country like Great Britain, the legal protections for speech are weaker than ours, but the social protections are stronger. They lack a First Amendment, but they have thicker skin and a greater acceptance of eccentricity of all sorts.”
Today, both sorts of protection for speech — legal and social — are weaker than before in both countries. This year, official regulation of the press was passed into U.K. law for the first time since 18th-century juries nullified press prosecutions. These new restraints enjoyed the backing not just of all the parties but apparently of the public as well.
In the U.S., the case of Mann v. Steyn, let alone a hypothetical case involving Quran-burning, has yet to be decided. But Democrats in the Senate are seeking to restrict political speech by restricting the money spent to promote it. And in the private sector, American corporations have blacklisted employees for expressing or financing certain unfashionable opinions. In short, a public culture that used to be liberal is now “progressive” — which is something like liberalism minus its commitment to freedom.
The U.S. and Britain have long thought of themselves as, above all, free countries. If that identity continues to atrophy, free speech will be the first victim. But it will not be the last.
John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.
October 15, 2016
October 13, 2016
Libertarian constitutional thought is a distinctly minority position among scholars and jurists, one that at first glance has little connection with either modern Supreme Court jurisprudence or the liberalism that remains dominant in the legal academy. However, libertarian ideas have more in common with mainstream constitutional thought than at first meets the eye. They have also had greater influence on it.
This article explores the connections between mainstream and libertarian constitutional thought in recent decades. On a number of important issues, modern Supreme Court doctrine and liberal constitutional thought has been significantly influenced by pre-New Deal libertarian ideas, even if the influence is often unconscious or unacknowledged. This is particularly true on issues of equal protection doctrine and modern “substantive” due process as it pertains to “noneconomic” rights. Here, both the Supreme Court and much of the mainstream academic left have repudiated early twentieth century Progressivism, which advocated across-the-board judicial deference to legislatures. They have also rejected efforts to eliminate common law and free market “baselines” for constitutional rights.
The gap between libertarian and mainstream constitutional thought is much greater on issues of federalism and property rights. Here too, however, recent decades have seen significant convergence. Over the last thirty years, the Supreme Court has begun to take federalism and property rights more seriously, and the idea that they should get strong judicial protection has attained greater intellectual respectability. Moreover, much of libertarian constitutional thought merely seeks to apply to federalism, property rights, and economic liberties, the same principles that mainstream jurists and legal scholars have applied in other areas, most notably “noneconomic” constitutional rights and separation of powers.
Ilya Somin and David Bernstein, abstract to “The Mainstreaming of Libertarian Constitutionalism” in Law and Contemporary Problems, reposted in the Washington Post, 2015-02-20.
October 11, 2016
[P]olitical correctness represents something far more profound than its critics appreciate. The victory of PC is built upon the demise and decay of traditional forms of authority and traditional forms of morality. It is parasitical on what we might call the crisis of conservative thought. In fact, I would argue that the power of PC is directly proportionate to the weakness of the old, taken-for-granted forms of morality.
I can understand the temptation to present political correctness as simply the imposition of a stifling framework by small groups of illiberal liberals, to see it as the conscious project of a cut-off, head-in-the-clouds middle-class elite determined to remake everything and everyone in its own image.
Yet to look at political correctness in that way only — as a kind of new Ten Commandments enforced by tiny elites — is to miss what is the foundation stone of PC, the ground upon which it is built. Which is the inability of the traditional moralists to justify themselves and defend their way of life and moral system. It is that inability which, towards the end of the twentieth century, created a moral vacuum that was filled by instinctive and often kneejerk new forms of moral control and censorship.
Because when you have a profound crisis of traditional morality, which governed society for so long, then previously normal and unquestioned ways of behaving get called into question. From speech to interpersonal relations, even to nursery rhymes — nothing can be taken for granted anymore when the old frameworks have been removed. All the given things of the past 200-odd years start to fall apart. Political correctness is really the scaffolding that has been hastily erected to replace the old morality. It represents the tentative takeover by a new kind of modern-day moralist. And the end result is undoubtedly tyrannical and stifling and profoundly antagonistic both to individual autonomy and freedom of speech.
That is why political correctness is so hysterical, so intolerant, so keen to govern everything from how professors communicate with their students to whether teachers can touch their pupils to when it is acceptable to say ‘blackboard’ — not because it is strong, but because it is weak and isolated. It has no real roots in society or history, like the more traditional forms of morality did. It enjoys no popular legitimacy or public support; in fact, the phrase ‘political correctness gone mad’ rather reflects the disdain amongst large sections of the public for today’s new speech codes and behaviour etiquette. It is the shallowness of PC, its parasitical nature, which makes it so insatiably interventionist.
Because at a time when it is no longer clear what is right and wrong, what is good and bad, who is respectable and who is not, then everything is thrown into a kind of moral chaos, giving rise to a weird hunger among the new elites to clamp down on and closely govern what were previously considered to be normal interactions that required little, if any, external intervention.
Brendan O’Neill, “The new war against PC – it’s too late and it’s picked the wrong target”, Spiked, 2015-01-29.
October 2, 2016
After the great victory won by my insurgent, pro-sex, pro-fashion wing of feminism in the 1990s, American and British feminism has amazingly collapsed backward again into whining, narcissistic victimology. As in the hoary old days of Gloria Steinem and her Stalinist cohorts, we are endlessly subjected to the hackneyed scenario of history as a toxic wasteland of vicious male oppression and gruesome female suffering. College campuses are hysterically portrayed as rape extravaganzas where women are helpless fluffs with no control over their own choices and behavior. I am an equal opportunity feminist: that is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women’s advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women, which I reject as demeaning and infantilizing. My principal demand (as I have been repeating for nearly 25 years) is for colleges to confine themselves to education and to cease their tyrannical surveillance of students’ social lives. If a real crime is committed, it must be reported to the police. College officials and committees have neither the expertise nor the legal right to be conducting investigations into he said/she said campus dating fiascos. Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system “street-smart feminism”: there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.
Camille Paglia, “The Catholic Pagan: 10 Questions for Camille Paglia”, American Magazine, 2015-02-25.
September 27, 2016
Too often these days, critics of PC play the victim card. Many right-wing thinkers claim that a conspiratorial cabal of PC loons is ruining our lives. This conveniently absolves these thinkers of having to account for what happened to their morality and traditions. Where did they go? It is far easier to claim that society has been taken hostage by gangs of lentil-eating, language-obsessed nutjobs than it is to face up to and explain the demise of a way of life that had existed for much of the modern era. Indeed, in many ways the term ‘political correctness’ doesn’t really have much basis in reality — it is the invention of traditionalists unable to explain recent historic turns, so instead they fantasise about the onward, unstoppable march of sinister liberals riding roughshod over their superior way of life.
Of course, the demise of traditional morality did not have to be a bad thing. There was much in those old ways which was also censorious and pernicious and stifling of anybody who wanted to experiment with lifestyle or sexual orientation. The problem is that the old, frequently stuffy morality was not successfully pushed aside by a more progressive, human-centred moral outlook – rather it withered and faded and collapsed under the pressure of crises, creating a moral hole that has been filled by those who have influence in the post-traditional world: the increasingly vocal chattering classes.
But let’s not play the victim in the face of an apparently all-powerful ‘PC police’. No, if you feel like you are being treated as a heretic for thinking or saying the ‘wrong things’ in our politically correct world, then you should start acting like a proper, self-respecting heretic: have the courage of your convictions and say what you think regardless of the consequences.
Brendan O’Neill, “The new war against PC – it’s too late and it’s picked the wrong target”, Spiked, 2015-01-29.
September 24, 2016
I believe in only one thing and that thing is human liberty. If ever a man is to achieve anything like dignity, it can happen only if superior men are given absolute freedom to think what they want to think and say what they want to say. I am against any man and any organization which seeks to limit or deny that freedom … [and] the superior man can be sure of freedom only if it is given to all men.
H.L. Mencken, quoted in Letters of H. L. Mencken (1961) edited by Guy J. Forgue, p. xiii.
September 10, 2016
Published on 7 Sep 2016
Their mission: to seek out new life and new civilizations, and leave them alone. Trade with them if they want, but mostly leave them the hell alone.
In honor of Star Trek‘s 50th Anniversary, Reason presents the Libertarian parody of the final frontier, with appearances by Gary Johnson and Remy.
Written and produced by Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg, and Andrew Heaton. Shot and edited by Bragg and Bragg.
September 2, 2016
Daniel Greenfield explains the role of the hijab, the burka, and other “traditional” Islamic clothing for women:
Does it matter what Muslim women wear to the beach? Arguably the government should not be getting involved in swimwear. But the clothing of Muslim women is not a personal fashion choice.
Muslim women don’t wear hijabs, burkas or any other similar garb as a fashion statement or even an expression of religious piety. Their own religion tells us exactly why they wear them.
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies that they may thus be distinguished and not molested.” (Koran 33:59)
It’s not about modesty. It’s not about religion. It’s about putting a “Do Not Rape” sign on Muslim women. And putting a “Free to Molest” sign on non-Muslim women.
This isn’t some paranoid misreading of Islamic scripture. Islamic commentaries use synonyms for “molested” such as “harmed”, “assaulted” and “attacked” because women who aren’t wearing their burkas aren’t “decent” women and can expect to be assaulted by Muslim men. These clothes designate Muslim women as “believing” women or “women of the believers”. That is to say Muslims.
One Koranic commentary is quite explicit. “It is more likely that this way they may be recognized (as pious, free women), and may not be hurt (considered by mistake as roving slave girls.)” The Yazidi girls captured and raped by ISIS are an example of “roving slave girls” who can be assaulted by Muslim men.
Muslim women who don’t want to be mistaken for non-Muslim slave girls had better cover up. And non-Muslim women had better cover up too or they’ll be treated the way ISIS treated Yazidi women and the way that Mohammed and his gang of rapists and bandits treated any woman they came across.
That’s what the burka is. That’s what the hijab is. And that’s what the burkini is.
And this is not just some relic of the past or a horror practiced by Islamic “extremists”. It’s ubiquitous. A French survey found that 77 percent of girls wore the hijab because of threats of Islamist violence. It’s numbers like these that have led to the French ban of the burka and now of the burkini.
When clothing becomes a license to encourage harassment, then it’s no longer a private choice.
On the other hand, Daniel Pipes says the burkini poses no threat and should not be banned:
France has been seized by a silly hysteria over the burkini, prompting me to wonder when Europeans will get serious about their Islamist challenge.
For starters, what is a burkini? The word (sometimes spelled burqini) combines the names of two opposite articles of female clothing: the burqa (an Islamic tent-like, full-body covering) and the bikini. Also known as a halal swimsuit, it modestly covers all but the face, hands and feet, consisting of a top and a bottom. It resembles a wetsuit with a head covering.
Aheda Zanetti of Ahiida Pty Ltd in Australia claims to have coined the portmanteau in 2003, calling it “smaller than a burka” while “two piece like a bikini.” The curious and sensational cross of two radically dissimilar articles of clothing along with the need it fit for active, pious Muslim women, the burkini (as Ahiida notes) was “the subject of an immediate rush of interest and demand.” Additionally, some women (like British cooking celebrity Nigella Lawson) wear it to avoid a tan, while pious Jews have adopted a variant garment.
[…] the burkini poses no danger to public security. Unlike the burqa or niqab, it leaves the face uncovered; relatively tight-fitting, it leaves no place to hide weapons. Men cannot wear it as a disguise. Further, while there are legitimate arguments about the hygiene of large garments in pools (prompting some hotels in Morocco to ban the garment), this is obviously not an issue on the coastal beaches of France.
Accordingly, beach burkinis should be allowed without restriction. Cultural arguments, such as the one made by Valls, are specious and discriminatory. If a woman wishes to dress modestly on the beach, that is her business, and not the state’s. It’s also her prerogative to choose unflattering swimwear that waterlogs when she swims.
I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind — that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty and the democratic form is as bad as any of the other forms.
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech — alike for the humblest man and the mightiest, and in the utmost freedom of conduct that is consistent with living in organized society.
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I — But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.
H.L. Mencken, “What I Believe”, The Forum 84, 1930-09.
August 26, 2016
Tim Black explains how Brendan O’Neill got up the noses of “right-thinking” Australians this time:
On Q&A, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship political panel show, spiked editor Brendan O’Neill once again prompted the right-thinking first to tweet their spleen, and then to fire off snarky op-eds. And the reason for the riling? Was it O’Neill’s criticism of the Australian state’s incarceration of migrants on the micro-island of Nauru, ‘a kind of purgatory, a limbo where aspiring migrants are stuck between a place they don’t want to be and a place they want to be’, as he described it? Or was it perhaps his criticism of pro-refugee campaigners, whom, as The Australian reports, O’Neill accused of ‘infantilising’ migrants, treating them as weak, helpless, other?
Nope, none of the above. What got up the nose of the unthinkingly politically correct was O’Neill’s attack on Section 18C of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits speech ‘reasonably likely… to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people’ because of their ‘race, colour or national or ethnic origin’. Or, to put it another way: Brendan O’Neill defended free speech. And, it was this, this defence of one of the cornerstones of radical, liberal, enlightened thought, that outraged the nominally liberal and leftist.
Here’s what O’Neill said: ‘I love hearing hate speech because it reminds me I live in a free society.’ Got that? O’Neill loves hearing hate speech, not in itself, not because he just loves vitriol, as some of his detractors really seem to believe. No, he loves hearing it because of what hearing it means: namely, that we live in a society that is confident enough in itself, in its liberal values, that it can tolerate dissenting and hateful views. O’Neill then went on to explain why freedom of speech is precisely the mechanism through which we can challenge racism: ‘The real problem with Section 18C is it actually disempowers anti-racists by denying us the right to see racism, to know it, to understand it and to confront it in public. Instead it entrusts the authorities to hide it away on our behalf so we never have a reckoning with it.’
For anyone faintly familiar with a liberal and radical tradition of thought, from Voltaire to Frederick Douglass to Karl Marx, O’Neill’s argument shouldn’t be controversial: it is only through the airing of prejudice that it can be reckoned with. And it certainly shouldn’t be difficult to understand. But sadly it seems that, for too many, it is. To these, the liberal-ish and the right-on, it is an anathema, thought from another planet.
France, like the rest of the liberal West, gets this exactly and lethally wrong. First we forbid individuals their natural right to set the rules within their own property, to exclude and admit who they choose, to demand the burkini or to ban it. Then we set the law on people for the crime of wearing too much cloth on the public beach. A photograph is reproduced worldwide showing three armed male policemen standing over a Muslim woman and making her remove the clothes she considers necessary for modesty. Whatever your opinion of Islam and its clothing taboos, does anyone in the world believe that this makes the next jihadist attack less likely? To call it “security theatre” would be a compliment. The popular entertainment it calls to mind is that of the mob stripping and parading une femme tondue.
Natalie Solent, “Security strip”, Samizdata, 2016-08-24.
August 4, 2016
I believe that liberty is the only genuinely valuable thing that men have invented, at least in the field of government, in a thousand years. I believe that it is better to be free than to be not free, even when the former is dangerous and the latter safe. I believe that the finest qualities of man can flourish only in free air – that progress made under the shadow of the policeman’s club is false progress, and of no permanent value. I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.
H.L. Mencken, “Why Liberty?”, Chicago Tribune, 1927-01-30.
July 20, 2016
In the current issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza introduces readers to the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate:
Johnson and Weld were set to appear that evening in a CNN town-hall special, which, it was later estimated, was seen by almost a million people. The stakes for Johnson were high. When pollsters include Johnson with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in their surveys, he has been the choice of roughly ten per cent of respondents, and in a Times/CBS News poll released last week he hit twelve per cent. If his standing in the polls rises to fifteen per cent, he will likely qualify to participate in the Presidential debates. “If you’re not in the debates, there’s no way to win,” Johnson said. “It’s the Super Bowl of politics.” Johnson has many flaws as a candidate, but being unlikable is not one of them. If he is allowed to debate Trump and Clinton, the two most unpopular presumed nominees in decades, then the most unpredictable election in modern times could get even weirder.
There hasn’t been a serious challenge from a third-party Presidential candidate since 1992, when Ross Perot, the eccentric Texas billionaire, ran as an independent and bought hours of TV time to educate voters about the large federal budget deficit. Perot won entry into the Presidential debates and received nineteen per cent of the vote against Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. Bush blamed Perot for his loss, though the best analyses of the race concluded that Perot had drawn equal numbers of voters from Bush and Clinton.
This year, the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump has created an opportunity for Johnson to at least match Perot’s impressive showing. Last week, Republican delegates in the Never Trump movement attempted to change the rules for the Republican National Convention, in a failed effort to deny Trump the nomination. For anti-Trump conservatives still searching for an alternative, Johnson may be the only option. On the left, anti-Clinton Democrats, including some determined supporters of Bernie Sanders, would prefer a candidate who is more socially liberal and noninterventionist than Clinton.
“We have arguably the two most polarizing candidates,” Johnson told me. “Hillary has to go out and she has to appeal to this ‘everything’s free, government can accomplish anything, what can you give us’ constituency. She’s doling it out as fast as she can. Trump is appealing to this anti-abortion, anti-immigration, ‘bomb the hell out of them, lock them up, throw away the key’ constituency.”
Johnson is charming and more transparent than most politicians — sometimes to a fault — and has a knack for putting a happy face on the rougher edges of libertarianism. Weld has a shabby-genteel bearing and a boarding-school sarcasm that comes across as both appealing and arrogant. Together, Johnson and Weld represent the first Presidential ticket with two governors since 1948, when the Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey, of New York, and Earl Warren, of California. One of the Johnson-Weld campaign slogans is “A Credible Alternative to ClinTrump.”
July 14, 2016
Sarah Skwire loves the recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, and believes that Austen was heavily influenced in this particular work by Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women:
Wollstonecraft argues that the women of her time — and Austen’s time — were “weak, artificial beings, raised above the common wants and affections of their race, in a premature unnatural manner, [who] undermine the very foundation of virtue, and spread corruption through the whole mass of society.”
Their corrupting influence, though, is not due to some sort of original sin handed down from Eve after the Garden of Eden. It is the result of the conscious and intentional educating of women out of natural virtue and into habituated weakness, dependence, and immorality.
Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female excellence, that I do not mean to add a paradox when I assert, that this artificial weakness produces a propensity to tyrannize, and gives birth to cunning, the natural opponent of strength, which leads them to play off those contemptible infantine airs that undermine esteem even whilst they excite desire.
This is Lady Susan in a nutshell. Her tyrannical hold over her daughter’s future, her constant deceptions in matters large and small, and her pretended helplessness and innocence, which her male acquaintances interpret as charm — these are all hallmarks of her character.
Even more a propos is Wollstonecraft’s description of women who have been educated in this fashion and who are then left, as is Lady Susan, widowed and with a family to care for.
But supposing, no very improbable conjecture, that a being only taught to please must still find her happiness in pleasing; — what an example of folly, not to say vice, will she be to her innocent daughters! The mother will be lost in the coquette, and, instead of making friends of her daughters, view them with eyes askance, for they are rivals — rivals more cruel than any other, for they invite a comparison, and drive her from the throne of beauty, who has never thought of a seat on the bench of reason.
Wollstonecraft adds that it doesn’t take a literary genius to imagine the “domestic miseries and petty vices” occasioned by such a mother.
A world without real education for women, a world without legal equality for women — this is a world that is rife with Lady Susans.
But in Austen’s imagining of Lady Susan, we have precisely that — a literary genius turning her considerable talents (though in early days) to delineating a portrait of a woman who has become precisely what she has been educated to be. In that way, Lady Susan becomes a powerful adjunct to Wollstonecraft’s Vindication. A world without real education for women, a world without legal equality for women — this is a world that is rife with Lady Susans, grappling for power and money in the marriage market and in the gray market of sexual favors, because that is the only sphere open to women with ambition.
July 6, 2016
The longest-term stakes in the war against terror are not just human lives, but whether Western civilization will surrender to fundamentalist Islam and shari’a law. More generally, the overt confrontation between Western civilization and Islamist barbarism that began on September 11th of 2001 has also made overt a fault line in Western civilization itself — a fault line that divides the intellectual defenders of our civilization from intellectuals whose desire is to surrender it to political or religious absolutism.
This fault line was clearly limned in Julien Benda’s 1927 essay Le trahison des clercs: English “The treason of the intellectuals”. I couldn’t find a copy of Benda’s essay on the Web. but there is an excellent commentary on it that repays reading. Ignore the reflexive endorsement of religious faith at the end; the source was a conservative Catholic magazine in which such gestures are obligatory. Benda’s message, untainted by Catholic or Christian partisanship, is even more resonant today than it was in 1927.
The first of the totalitarian genocides (the Soviet-engineered Ukrainian famine of 1922-1923, which killed around two million people) had already taken place. Hitler’s “Final Solution” was about fifteen years in the future. Neither atrocity became general knowledge until later, but Benda in 1927 would not have been surprised; he foresaw the horrors that would result when intellectuals abetted the rise of the vast tyrannizing ideologies of the 20th century,
Changes in the transport, communications, and weapons technologies of the 20th century made the death camps and the gulags possible. But it was currents in human thought that made them fact — ideas that both motivated and rationalized the thuggery of the Hitlers and Stalins of the world.
Eric S. Raymond, “Today’s treason of the intellectuals”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-11-28.