Friday, February 29, 2008

Berkeley Petition still getting signatures

Since I left for Berkeley on the 12th, the Boycott Berkeley petition has received an additional 1,470 signatures for a total of 6,550. While the City Council yielded on the constitutional issue as the petition demanded, the larger implications of their actions continue to raise the ire of Americans from all over the country.

The moral of the story: America loves her Marines and will not tolerate those who use the offices of political power to slime them.

The Freedom to Petition One's Government

Charles Krauthammer makes a trenchant argument in defense of a perennial whipping boy:

Everyone knows the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. How many remember that, in addition, the First Amendment protects a fifth freedom -- to lobby?

Of course it doesn't use the word lobby. It calls it the right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Lobbyists are people hired to do that for you, so that you can actually stay home with the kids and remain gainfully employed rather than spend your life in the corridors of Washington.

To hear the candidates in this presidential campaign, you'd think lobbying is just one notch below waterboarding, a black art practiced by the great malefactors of wealth to keep the middle class in a vise and loose upon the nation every manner of scourge: oil dependency, greenhouse gases, unpayable mortgages and those tiny entrees you get at French restaurants.
Some will argue that not all lobbyists are good, to which Krauthammer offers the following:

There is a defense of even bad lobbying. It goes like this: You wouldn't need to be seeking advantage if the federal government had not appropriated for itself in the 20th century all kinds of powers, regulations, intrusions and manipulations (often through the tax code) that had never been presumed in the 19th century and certainly were never imagined by the Founders. What appears to be rent-seeking is thus redress of a larger grievance -- insufferable government meddling in what had traditionally been considered an area of free enterprise.
I agree, but I think one needs to take the argument a step further. No one has a right to regulate or vet the speech of others merely because they disagree with it. As much as the rational may detest the words and ideas of the irrational, the protection of the rights of the rational demand that all non-fraudulent and non-defamatory speech be protected under the law—which includes the right to lobby one's government. Those who seek to shackle lobbyists and regulate political campaigners attack a fundamental freedom: the right to persuade others of the merits of one's views, yet that is precisely what we are seeing more and more of today.

Some claim that since much of the regulation of speech is linked to money, it makes the system fairer for the "little guy." I argue the opposite; these regulations punish the wealthy because of their wealth, denying them the opportunity to speak publicly when their interests demand it and today they are the little guy. I am reminded of the Nike v. Katsky case, where the so-called commercial speech doctrine was used to prevent Nike from publicly defending itself against the criticism of anti-globalization activists. Here Nike wasn't even attempting to lobby the government; it merely bought advertising defending its business model and yet the firm found its right to speak restrained. The standard now is such that if you speak out of an economic motive, stand by to have your rights assaulted.

I will freely admit: the outcome of the Nike case was a deep professional disappointment for me, especially in the face of all the tremendous work that this organization did in defense of free speech (work that I must point out went largely unremunerated). Nevertheless, if we don't take concrete steps to safeguard our right to free speech, freedom in America will die. Most people think that the threat to free speech exists only for social outliers, such as flag burners and the like. I've witnessed the flag burned ten feet in front of me to no negative effect for the flag-burner. In contrast, I have watched as businessmen and their lobbyists have had their freedom of speech whittled away--a fact that makes me wonder just who the real social outliers are.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

BB&T under attack for supporting Atlas Shrugged in the classroom

According to Inside Higher Ed, some professors at Marshall University believe that a donation to the university that requires that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged be taught in a course supported by the donation is an assault on academic freedom (Hat tip: OActivists).

"Atlas Shrugged can be taught. It's the required part that is problematic," said Jamie Warner, director of undergraduate studies in political science. Under this precedent, she said, "you could see neo-Nazis giving money and saying that you have to teach Mein Kampf."

The gift in question was $1 million to Marshall’s business school, from the BB&T Foundation, the charitable arm of the BB&T Corporation, a financial holdings company. The press release announcing the gift last month said that the funds would support a lecture series and an upper level course that would focus on the principles of Atlas Shrugged and also Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Much of the discussion has focused on Atlas Shrugged because that was the key requirement of the gift.

The BB&T Foundation has given a series of large gifts to universities generally to support programs involving business, ethics and philosophy.
So here we have a successful and respected private company offering a charitable gift to a university with the caveat that the university includes a specific text in a class funded by the gift. The book is a long-time bestseller that directly relates to the gift-giver's corporate mission in support of American free enterprise—the very raison d'etre behind why the university has been offered its gift in the first place.

The university freely accepts the gift, plainly implying that it had no problem with the terms and that they had a faculty member willing to fulfill them, yet once other members of the faculty learn of it, they nevertheless equate the terms of the gift with an assault on academic freedom and Neo-Nazis pushing Mein Kampf.

While I have my own issues with BB&T's choices in gift giving (primarily that they have bankrolled libertarians at my alma mater who write garbage like this while simultaneously failing to support the faculty on campus who do expose students to Ayn Rand's ideas in the classroom), this attack at Marshall University is beyond the pale. BB&T is being condemned because it chooses to attach specific conditions to its gift to Marshall. Why shouldn't it? Why should it be expected to meekly write blank checks with no say or interest with what is taught in the classrooms made possible by its largess?

I am reminded of when I was an undergraduate student publishing an Objectivist campus newspaper at George Washington University. The experience was excruciatingly bitter and disheartening, primarily because I had to work ten times as hard as my non-Objectivist peers in order to secure even a modicum of student funding, and this despite a product that competed head to head with the larger and more heavily supported campus newspaper. I was condemned to the ends of the Earth for being an Objectivist by my professors and it was made abundantly clear that there was no place in the university for me and the kind of study that I was interested in. All the while, students who supported environmentalism, multiculturalism, or "mandatory volunteering" were showered with money in support of their programs and full-ride scholarships in support of their educations.

I vowed then that it would be a cold day in hell before I gave any university one red cent of my money for any endeavor that I didn't have direct oversight. BB&T's experience at Marshall bears me out. A bank has the audacity to encourage the study of capitalism and the works of one of capitalism's premiere defenders and it gets slimed by the vermin who can't even stand the mere thought of it.

If Marshall University's faculty doesn't want BB&T's support, BB&T should take its money elsewhere. I can think of a hundred better places to spend that money than at Marshall.

This is your world in gold

Since inflation is hot on many people's minds these days, I've been looking for data that tracks prices in gold as compared to our ever-inflated US dollar. I didn't need to look far. Priced in Gold is an excellent website that charts the cost of various commodities and currencies in gold bullion. For example, the website tracks the (eroded) US dollar, crude oil, US retail gasoline and US Median Home Prices, just to name a few.

This is data every American needs to see, for you can't look at the plunging dollar and escape the conclusion that something is deeply wrong with U.S. monetary policy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Google on the Mountaintop

ROR reader Cedar Bristol sent me this article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. from the official Google blog as an all-too-common example of businessmen using their wealth and influence to tighten the noose of statism around the rest of us. According to Kennedy (and apparently Google's leadership), we are guilty of the desecration our mountaintops and Google's technology can help us see it. Kennedy writes:

[G]oogle provides us all with unprecedented access to the world’s information. In Appalachia, nonprofit organizations are using that information in innovative new ways to reveal the destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining, and to demand for the people of Appalachia the "free and good government" that [Thomas] Jefferson envisioned.

If the American people could see what I have seen from the air and ground during my many trips to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia: leveled mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives, there would be a revolution in this country. Thanks to Google Earth, you can now visit coal country without ever having to leave your home.
I am reminded of the campaign a few years back that noted that since even a technological achievement such as Internet runs mostly on energy from coal, we should not be so quick to condemn it as a power source. That point seems utterly lost on Kennedy. Instead we see this:

Each day coal companies detonate 2500 tons of explosives – the power of a Hiroshima bomb every week – to blow away Appalachian mountaintops to reach the coal seams beneath. Colossal machines then plow the rock and debris into the adjacent river valleys and hollows, destroying forests and burying free-flowing mountain streams, flattening North America's most ancient mountain range. According to the EPA, 1,200 miles of American rivers and streams have already been permanently interred, leaving behind giant pits and barren moonscapes, some as large as Manhattan Island. I recently flew over one 18 square-mile pit – Hobet 21 – which you can now tour in Google Earth.
It gets even better.

We are literally cutting down the historic landscapes where Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett roamed and that are so much the source of American's values, character and culture.
So we are presented with two basic choices: civilization (complete with computers, central air conditioning, heart monitors and CAT scans) or an untrammeled historic landscape. And people have the audacity to claim that the environmentalists aren't anti-man.

In his message to me, Mr. Bristol says we should resurrect our James Taggert Award for Loathsome Self-Damning Anti-Bussness Pandering. If we do, I'd put Google right up top of the list, for when they give their platform to greens like Kennedy and his ilk, they fully earn all the bile we can give them.

Antitrust du-jour

More European antitrust fines for Microsoft:

The European Union fined Microsoft Corp. a record $1.3 billion Wednesday for the amount it charges rivals for software information.

EU regulators said the company charged "unreasonable prices" until last October to software developers who wanted to make products compatible with the Windows desktop operating system.

The fine is the largest ever for a single company and brings to just under $2.5 billion the amount the EU has demanded Microsoft pay in a long-running antitrust dispute.

Microsoft immediately said the issues for which it was fined have been resolved and the company was making its products more open.

The fine comes less that a week after Microsoft said it would share more information about its products and technology in an effort to make it work better with rivals' software and meet the demands of antitrust regulators in Europe.

But EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes remained skeptical and said Microsoft was under investigation in two additional cases.

"Talk is cheap," Kroes said. "Flouting the rules is expensive."

Microsoft's actions have stifled innovation and affected millions of people around the world, Kroes said. She called the record 899 million euro fine "a reasonable response to a series of quite unreasonable actions." [Aoife White, AP Business Writer]
When I read about Microsoft's continuing antitrust woes, the one thing I feel is absolutely no sympathy for the firm. Microsoft has shelled out billions upon billions of dollars in antitrust fines and its every move is scrutinized by government regulators (and competitors that seek to use antitrust as a competitive club), yet Microsoft has never publicly condemned antitrust as such. Just how many billions will Microsoft have to pay before its management discovers the moral backbone to say enough is enough?

And while some may argue that to take a public stand against antitrust would only invite more antitrust scrutiny, I take a different view. Not to attack the moral and economic claims behind antitrust grants the regulators a legitimacy they simply do not deserve. The claim that a business in the free market wields coercive power over the market is patently absurd, yet this lie remains utterly unchallenged by American business—and it is for that reason that I say Microsoft and other firms shackled by antitrust get exactly what they deserve. Antitrust may be foul, but the continued sanction of its victims is far worse the crime.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Causality and inflation

This AP article reports a large spike in inflation:

The Labor Department said Tuesday that wholesale prices rose 1 percent last month, more than double the 0.4 percent increase that economists had been expecting.

The January surge left wholesale prices rising by 7.5 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest pace in more than 26 years, since prices had risen at a 7.5 percent pace in the 12 months ending in October 1981.

The worse-than-expected performance was certain to capture attention at the Federal Reserve, which has chosen to combat a threatened recession by aggressively cutting interest rates in the belief that weaker economic growth will keep a lid on prices.

But the combination of rising inflation and weaker growth raises the threat of "stagflation," the economic malady that plagued the country through the 1970s, when a series of oil shocks left households battered by the twin problems of stagnant growth and rising inflation. [Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer]
So let's get this right: the cause of inflation is alleged to be too much growth and "shocking" increases in the price of oil. In response, the government has taken a policy that retards growth in order to reduce inflation, yet now we risk weak growth and inflation.

Why is the government let off the hook so easily? Why aren't its policies indicted for causing inflation? This Reuters article chronicles the recent actions of the Federal Reserve:

The Fed has cut interest rates aggressively to counter a deep housing slump and a credit crunch linked to worries about delinquent mortgage payments. The Fed's benchmark fed funds rate stands at 3 percent, down from 5.25 percent in September, and the central bank is widely expected to cut short-term U.S. interest rates again at its March 18 meeting.
And yet again, government policy is let completely off the hook:

In the meantime, inflation has climbed on the back of record oil and commodity prices, pushing the Consumer Price Index up 4.3 percent in the 12 months through January.
In a free market, interest rates are set by supply and demand and adjust accordingly. Today however we do not enjoy the benefits of a free market; today we have a government agency that has the power to artificially lower interest rates (and at the same time the rest of the government engages in an unbridled spending orgy). Nevertheless, it is uncritically reported that an increase in oil prices is one of the primary causes of the current inflationary spike.

Doesn't due diligence demand that a reporter test the premise that oil prices are the cause of today's inflation (rather than just a sign)? For example, I've read several reports in the past few months that state that the price of oil has remained relatively flat when measured in gold. Isn't that information deeply relevant? One could also measure the cost of oil against other currencies to see if there is something unique about the purchasing power of American dollars when compared to other currencies. If an increase in oil prices causes inflation, shouldn't we see it reflected in all the currencies of the world?

One would expect a certain degree of curiosity on the part of a reporter and a willingness to test the various economic claims that pass for conventional wisdom (and government policy). Yet here (and in just about every other mainstream news source that I have observed) we see no interest in evidencing the causal chain that leads to inflation. The facts are merely asserted; the reporters don't even attempt to offer any empirical evidence for the various claims presented.

In short, the reporters have no interest in establishing causality as part of their reporting; their articles are little more than a repetition of the bald-faced claims of others. And I can't help but think that this is one of the root causes of inflation.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The New York Philharmonic arrives in North Korea

The government of North Korea is one of the most brutal and murderous dictatorships on Earth. The North Korean people suffer and die needlessly as a result of its depredations and its continued attempts at nuclear blackmail are an affront to all the peaceable people of the world, yet the Bush Administration and the New York Philharmonic seem to think that the North Korean heart can be warmed with a musical numbers.

The New York Philharmonic became the most prominent U.S. cultural institution to visit isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea on Monday, and orchestra members said they hoped their musical diplomacy could bring the two nations closer together.

North Korea made unprecedented accommodations for the orchestra, allowing a delegation of nearly 300 people, including musicians, staff and journalists to fly into Pyongyang on a chartered plane for 48 hours.

The Philharmonic's concert Tuesday will be broadcast live on North Korea's state-run TV and radio, unheard of in a country where events are carefully choreographed to bolster the personality cult of leader Kim Jong Il. [Burt Herman, Associated Press Writer]
I fail to see how the Philharmonic's performance would differ from any other "carefully choreographed" event designed to bolster the standing of the Dear Leader and his henchmen, yet according to New York Philharmonic director Lorin Maazel, it would be a mistake not to visit Pyongyang.

Music director Lorin Maazel said despite the political overtones of the trip, it was the right decision to go to North Korea.

"I think it would have been a great mistake not to accept their invitation," he said after arriving at the Pyongyang airport.

"I am a musician and not a politician. Music has always traditionally been an arena, an area where people make contact. It's neutral, it's entertainment, it's person to person," Maazel said.
I suspect that Maazel would present a different take on the political neutrality and entertainment value of music if the Philharmonic was invited to perform a rousing rendition of the Horst-Wessel-Lied, yet the irony of politically free westerners performing music for the benefit of a totalitarian dictatorship is apparently lost upon Maazel.

Nevertheless, I wish the best for Maazel and his orchestra. With any luck, they will get to sample the accommodations at the (in)famous Ryugyong Hotel. Maybe there they can finally come to grips with the reality that something is not quite right in North Korea.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm moving!

I'm in the process of moving, so my blogging contributions will be light to non-existent for the next few days. In the meantime, be sure to read Diana West's February 15th Washington Times column that cites Dr. John Lewis' excellent essay on the meaning of the American victory over Japan in WWII (and its implications today) in The Objective Standard.

Also, if you are the intellectually active type, be sure to read Diana Hsieh's announcement for a new e-mail list for Objectivist activists.

Public Intellectuals

If one assumed that American intellectuals have little or no influence in our culture, and searched for evidence of it, one need not look further than Jeffrey R. Di Leo’s February 4th essay, “Public Intellectuals, Inc.” on the InsideHigherEd website. In an obvious effort to boost the “prestige” of intellectuals in the public eye, he proposes that intellectuals – in academe and in what Di Leo terms the “public-private sector,” for many of them have feet in both realms – should do a better job of ingratiating themselves to both camps. Little known academic intellectuals – that is, in the academic establishment – commonly have scant respect for well known “public intellectuals,” because the latter are not beholden to what Di Leo claims are the strict, “qualitative” standards of academia and who focus on “quantity.” (A quantity of what, Di Leo never says.)

Di Leo, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Houston-Victoria, does not say what ideas these relabeled “corporate” intellectuals should draw from academe and publicly propagate, but his models of successful “public” intellectuals are a dead give-away: transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, arch-pragmatists John Dewey and William James, and a founder of sociology, Max Weber – “figures,” he writes, “who still have a powerful presence in the world of ideas.” Di Leo claims that contemporary public intellectuals have not attained the respect these intellectuals enjoyed in their time, nor nearly their influence on the course of American politics and culture.

“Currently, it almost seems that the more public the intellectual, the less seriously he is taken by other intellectuals. Nevertheless, public intellectuals today have more media outlets and markets available to them than ever before. Due primarily to the rise of new technologies, the circulation and recicrulation of their ideas are reaching wider and wider audiences. Consequently, as the intellectual influence of public intellectuals over other intellectuals (viz., non-public intellectuals) wanes, the market for their ideas and their entertainment value skyrockets.”

Di Leo’s complaint reads suspiciously like long repressed but disguised envy. Does he dream of being a wined-and-dined “public intellectual” with a huge “market” for his ideas (whatever they may be) which would net him the attention, “respect,” and deference accorded “public intellectuals”? One can only guess. He does not define what he means by a “market,” and he himself disparages most “public intellectuals” by indicating that their ideas have mere “entertainment” value. Nor does he define or even identify contemporary “public intellectuals.”

Instances of “public intellectuals,” to me, at least, are, say, George Will, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Jonah Goldberg on one hand, and Maureen Dowd, Leonard Pitts and Paul Krugman on the other, most of whom have syndicated columns that appear in major and minor newspapers and even on internet publications, and who are certainly more widely known than is Di Leo. They are “public intellectuals,” and I am not aware that they are losing or lack public “respect.”

And perhaps the best known “public intellectual,” influential even twenty-six years after her death, is Ayn Rand, who was more than an intellectual. She was a philosopher.

A better and shorter term for “public intellectual,” moreover, might be the wholly respectable but nevertheless slightly derogatory pundit, whose Hindi-rooted secondary meaning in various dictionaries simply is “learned teacher,” “authority,” or “critic.” A pundit may or may not have a strong academic affiliation or any academic affiliation at all. Perhaps it is respect that Di Leo pines for, but he is averse to being a mere pundit. So he has coined the cumbersome term “corporate intellectual,” corporate subsuming all intellectuals, academic and non-academic. But even this term is redundant and pointless. An intellectual is an intellectual, whether he writes for an academic journal or is a newspaper columnist or is a teacher in one of the humanities.

Here is another odd statement:

“The reduction of the discourse of public intellectuals to mere polarized positions is the most observable sign of a lack of respect….Respect is afforded public intellectuals not by the mere ‘declaration’ or ‘assertion’ of a position….Rather, respect is granted to them through the opportunity to articulate and defend their positions in some detail or depth to a wide audience. It is further confirmed when their defense is thoughtfully received by an attentive audience. Public intellectuals are respected for the depth of their knowledge, and efforts to suppress it, such as the reduction of their knowledge to a mere position, is ultimately a sign of disrespect for them as intellectuals.” (Italics mine)

It takes some pondering to unravel this contradiction. But, here is more of Di Leo’s complaint:

“From the general public’s point of view, they are either Republican or Democrat; liberal or conservative; left-wing or right-wing; pro-choice or pro-life; and so on.” (It is significant that he omits intellectuals who are pro-reason or anti-reason.) These, presumably, are what Di Leo means by mere polarized positions. That is, they identify specific political or moral positions with which one may or may not disagree. It seems that he resents identity as such.

Overall, it is difficult to determine what exactly Di Leo wishes academics and “public intellectuals” to do, other than what they have been doing, which is either acting as transmitters of a culture’s values (as Rand would put it) especially in higher education, or propounding, explicating, defending, or attacking them before a large public audience.

Di Leo’s perfect model of a “public intellectual” and academic intellectual is Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom he says came nearest to what he represents as the best kind of “corporate intellectual.”

“In his 1837 address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society, ‘The American Scholar,’ Emerson envisioned the American scholar as a person who would do whatever possible to communicate ideas to the world, not just to fellow intellectuals. Emerson regarded the American scholar to be a whole person while thinking. As a whole person, the American scholar would speak and think from the position of the ‘One Man,’ which ‘is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier.’”

Later Di Leo endorses Emerson’s purpose as a “public intellectual.”

“’The office of the scholar,’ writes Emerson, ‘is to cheer, to raise, and the guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation…He is one who raises himself from private considerations and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. He is the world’s eye. He is the world’s heart.’”

Thus, concludes Di Leo, “Emerson provides us with a very clear response to the relationship of intellectuals to the public-private and academic spheres.”

An antidote to Emerson’s freewheeling, inebriate concept of an intellectual’s purpose and role is Ayn Rand’s description:

“The professional intellectual is the field agent of the army whose commander-in-chief is the philosopher. The intellectual carries the application of philosophical principles to every field of human endeavor….The intellectual is the eyes, ears and voice of a free society: it is his job to observe the events of the world, to evaluate their meaning and to inform the men in all the other fields.” (“For the New Intellectual,” in For the New Intellectual, excerpted in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.)

As evidence that Di Leo does not grasp that the academic “life of the mind” sooner or later is transmitted by “public intellectuals” into the culture, later in his essay he writes:

“The public-private sector…is associated with a different set of activities and values….[I]f academe is dedicated to the life of the mind, then the public-private sector is not; if academe disseminates, discovers, and debates knowledge and ideas, then the public-private sector does not; if academe is not motivated by market values, then the public-private sector is. In sum, the public-private sector is a site where ends are pursued relative to their potential either to appease public and private sentiment or produce ‘cash value,’ whereas the academy is not.”

In short, Di Leo claims that academe pursues knowledge for the sake of knowledge, without regard to its practical application to reality and to man’s life – that is, without regard to its “cash” or “market” value. This is somehow a “nobler” or “purer” pursuit of knowledge than what motivates “public intellectuals,” who are too preoccupied with applying their knowledge to real or imagined problems in politics, the arts, and science.

Furthermore, Di Leo is wrong that academe’s dedication to the dissemination of knowledge is conducted in an insular, scholarly ambience alien and hostile to the “outside world.” All the disastrous ideas that have plagued man since the 18th century have emanated from the universities, in philosophy, in politics, in the arts, and in the sciences. It may have taken a generation or longer, but they have as a rule originated in academe and were eventually absorbed by intellectuals who in turn transmitted them to the public and to the various “humanities” and sciences, where they were applied, for better or for worse.

More recently, the philosophy and pedagogical ideas of John Dewey are prime examples. Another example of a “whole person” is Woodrow Wilson, a cloistered intellectual who moved from the “groves of academe” to the White House, where he translated his anti-liberty ideas to political policy.

But perhaps the best example of an Emersonian “One Man” – that perfect symbiosis of academic and “public intellectual” admired by Di Leo – who influenced the course of philosophy and consequently the character and content of our civilization, is Immanuel Kant. Most the ideas that have set the course of politics in America for statism and totalitarianism (if the trend isn’t arrested and reversed); most the ideas that sabotaged and eventually destroyed the arts; and most the ideas that are converting science into the craps shoot of consensus, originated in academe, courtesy of that Prussian thinker. (Hegel, Comte, Schopenhauer and their philosophical ilk and successors were all heirs to Kant’s deliberate attack on reason; they were the branches of the tree that was Kant, without whom it is doubtful they would have concocted their own malignant systems.)

It took less than a generation for academe and its “public intellectual” spokesmen to convert the anti-science, anti-technology, non-intellectual, and anti-man fringe cult of ecology or environmentalism into a political force, culminating, first, in warnings of global cooling, and then of global warming, then turned into national and international legislation, sentencing those who place a “cash” or “market” value on the truth to fight a rear-guard action, to be ignored or marginalized by a news media whose spokesmen were taught – in colleges and universities – that truth is relative, or subjective, or irrelevant, and that man is guilty of everything by virtue of his mere existence. (And three of most prominent exponents of that position today are those “public intellectuals” Al Gore and the Clintons.)

Di Leo’s envy of successful “public intellectuals” shows when he cites the findings of Richard Posner in his 2002 book Public Intellectuals (which I am not recommending, because I have not read it), which apparently tabulated 546 major “public intellectuals” known in the news media.

“Work like Posner’s continues to promote the unfortunate notion that public intellectuals are identifiable and worthy of merit based solely on the size of the market for their ideas, with no methodological allowances made for the quality of their contribution to public discourse….Posner treats public intellectualism in America as though it were merely part of the entertainment industry….”

This reads much like a person who would also like to be interviewed by Tim Russert, or Matt Lauer, or Charley Rose, but never will be. Falling back on Emerson’s “whole person” argument, Di Leo remarks:

“In the act of thinking, the intellectual becomes this whole person. Emerson writes: ‘In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.’ Isn’t this true today? Doesn’t public intellectualism suffer from the exact form of degeneracy noted by Emerson? Are there not too many public intellectuals who are parrots in the public arena, speaking merely from the parameters laid out for them by others….?”

There is an element of truth in these observations. But, barring a compulsive vanity to be pawed by the news media, academic intellectuals need not become “super star” intellectuals to effect “change” in politics or any other realm of human endeavor. When I listen to the rhetoric of the current presidential candidates (or even of the current occupant of the White House), I am not “entertained”; what I feel is dread, anger or revulsion. Every one of them is proposing to expand government power over Americans’ lives, increase the national debt in expenditures here and abroad to “fight” poverty, AIDS, global warming, and so on, in the “nobler” pursuit of selflessness and sacrifice. And every one of their proposals is rooted in what was taught the candidates in universities, and all of it is the thoughtless, unimaginative parroting of ideas uncritically absorbed in academe.

What Di Leo’s essay demonstrates is the gulf that exists not only between academe and the American public, but also between academe’s general grasp of its actual influence in the culture and its alleged sidelining and neglect in “public discourse.” Di Leo is likely not the only academic intellectual who pines for prominence in the “public discourse,” although had he a better understanding of academe’s role in today’s politics and culture, he might be reluctant to take credit for it.

Ideas, after all, have consequences, and the respect they earn is in direct proportion to how they promote, abridge, poison or destroy one’s life.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Q&A with Scott Powell on 'The Islamist Entanglement'

Historian Scott Powell, the creator of "A First History for Adults" is about to kick off his newest learning program, "The Islamist Entanglement." Below is my recent interview with Powell about the aims of his new course and his unique method for teaching history. —Nicholas Provenzo

Rule of Reason: The title for your course on the history of Islam and the West is "The Islamic Entanglement." Why not "relationship" or some other word? How is the West "entangled" with the East, and how can the study of this history help us today?

Scott Powell: Thanks for asking! I chose the course title very carefully.

There are two facets to it. First, the title "Islamist Entanglement" captures the fact that over the past sixty years the United States has developed an enormous stake in the Middle East, to the point where, as a nation, it is now not only invested in the economic development of the region, but also actively engaged in manipulating its political system as well. The use of the word "entanglement" is also, however, my subtle way of alluding to the fact that this recent trend in American foreign policy is a tragic deviation from a different approach to foreign relations once advocated by the Founding Fathers.

This policy, first put forward by George Washington in his farewell address of 1796, and later incorporated into the Monroe Doctrine, was that "the great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible." It is, he continued, our "true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world" rather than "entangle" our peace and prosperity" in their political fortunes.

That's where I got the word "entanglement." I've long been an admirer of the foreign policy of the Founders, so I thought it was especially fitting to use that term.

RoR: Whether we wanted to or not, many of us have received quite a schooling in Islam over the past few years as Islam's adherents have captured the world's headlines. Nevertheless, given the nature the West's entanglements, do you think that Westerners truly understand Islam, and if they don not, how does your course help correct this deficiency?

SP: I would agree that Americans have indeed become more aware of America's links to the Middle East and of the nature of Islamic culture in general, especially since 9-11, and I would agree that in many regards it is an awareness that has not actively been pursued, but rather one thrust upon us. This last point is, I think, a significant problem, which I would like to address through this course.

America has been impressing itself on the Middle East ever since WWII. That it has done so without any idea of how the culture there would react is evident. In 1979, for instance, Jimmy Carter praised Iran for being an "island of stability." Then, which came as a complete shock of course, an Islamic Revolution occurred, and the US embassy was stormed by people shouting "Death to America!"

In situations like this one and 9-11 most Americans have reacted by calling for military action against Muslim nations. What they haven't done is proactively pursued the knowledge that would underpin a far more productive and secure relationship with the people of the Middle East. The knowledge I'm referring to is knowledge specifically of the story of the Islamic world's shifting response to being subordinated by Western civilization.

What I want to do with The Islamist Entanglement is offer an essentialized orientation to this instructive story--to show what has happened in the modern history of the Middle East and why--and thereby, provide a factual or historical springboard into a more proactive mode of thinking about our relationship with the Islamic world.

RoR: If the West is entangled in the Islamic world, the reverse can be said just as easily. Yet why haven't the Islamists embraced the better ideas of the West? For example, several of the 9-11 hijackers studied in Western countries before destroying themselves and others in their violent jihad. Rather than knock down our skyscrapers, why didn't they point to them and say to the Islamic world, "this is how we must be." To what degree is the West indicted in sowing the deeds of its own destruction here?

SP: Tragically, just as the West was achieving supremacy over Islam politically and militarily, after about 1700, its own culture was in many regards abandoning the root of its relative advance--namely the "Renaissance" or rebirth of reason. This is especially the case in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when Western thinkers turned against the Enlightenment, and the brief political flowering of individual rights in the latter eighteenth century was smothered in Europe. The process of the political subordination of the East was then accelerating, but the cultural conduit carrying ideas Eastward was now transmitting the ideologies then in vogue, such as nationalism and socialism, which were contrary to those that had actually spurred Europe's progress. Consequently, when those Muslims who were interested in improving their lives turned West, they failed to find anyone who could articulate the reasons why the West was better. That life in the West was and is better than in the Middle East is manifest, but to identify why is not a simple matter. And if one does not understand the causes then one cannot properly transpose what has happened in Western civilization into the Islamic setting.

The West is thus, as you say, to be indicted--for failing to know, embrace, and defend the values that have nourished its own greatness. Part and parcel to this had been the adoption of counterproductive foreign policies, which have only served to exacerbate the antagonism between the two cultures.

RoR: Your method for teaching history differs greatly from the way most people have come to know the field, and it's fair to say that many of your students feel as if they are learning history for the first time. Can you describe your method for teaching history and the process by which you came to develop it?

SP: The Islamist Entanglement is part of a history program I call "A First History for Adults." I developed this program because I realized there were many adults out there who want to learn history but have no place to start. Time and time again I've seen adult students who are committed to learning about the past ask historians in frustration, "Where can I get started?" It's one thing to enjoy a book or lecture by a great historian; it's another thing to actually gain knowledge for yourself. It doesn't just happen by being exposed to someone else's expertise.

Based on my understanding of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, and specifically her theory of knowledge, I began to examine the issue of knowledge acquisition, as it pertains to history. I came to realize that as in every other area of cognition, there is what Rand called a "hierarchy" of knowledge in history, which determines the most profitable order of acquiring and organizing historical information into an integrated body of knowledge. When that hierarchy is respected, history becomes more manageable and intelligible.

Although my work in this theoretical area is just getting started, I think that students have responded so well to my classes because my presentation of history is organized in a way that optimizes what they get to take away from it. This is especially the case for my keenest students, who continue to interrogate the material in between and after classes using the methods I advocate, but also for anyone who just pays attention!

RoR: You state that knowledge of history doesn't come simply from being exposed to someone else's research or expertise. Where do you think it comes from and how do you assist your students in getting it?

SP: Let me clarify.

Most historians amass a huge constellation of facts in relation to some subject, and then present it--either chronologically, or according to some thesis. Rarely do they stop to consider whether or not their audience can actually relate to that material by fitting into their own personal context, and just how the new information might expand and help solidify that context. (If they took that issue seriously, the whole focus of the profession at this moment would be on rebuilding general historical awareness in the culture, because most people have little, if any knowledge of general history and have abandoned it as irrelevant to day-to-day life.) It's basically historians' aim to present what they know or what they have concluded about something. But that doesn't necessarily help someone who doesn't yet know history themselves.

In relation to this, I identified some time ago a basic cognitive measuring stick that can help you determine whether or not you are actually learning when you read a history book. I identified that when your personal context is insufficient to actually integrate new historical information, you end up suffering from an acute case of what I call "sinking concretes." As the new facts to which you are exposed pile up on one another, your mind simply can't retain them. They "sink" into the recesses of your mind, and eventually become irretrievable. This may sound like just a fancy way of saying you forget them, but to see the question as a cognitive one helps to identify that the reason you can't remember is that the facts you encounter are not buoyed by a context that would allow you to retain them. Try reading your top favorite history article or listening to an inspiring history lecture, and then take the "sinking concretes test" afterwards, a day later, and a week later, to see how many facts you have retained. Then you'll know if you actually obtained any knowledge from the time you invested.

And when you're done being frustrated by conventional history, come try A First History for Adults! My aim is to create a presentation of history that specifically builds upon the context of knowledge of the average educated adult, and allows you to create a real foundation of knowledge. I help students create a "skeleton" or framework upon which more elaborate research and abstract thinking can be profitably pursued. Probably the most important thing that I do is eradicate as many non-essential facts as possible, and then show how the really pivotal ones can be grouped into useful historical abstractions, called "periods." It's not a magic serum, but it is the most productive way to build general historical knowledge.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Berkeley Postscript

When I went to Berkeley the day after the City Council meeting to visit the Marine Recruiting station, I also stopped by the site of the protest the night before. There I found the ashes of the American flag that had been burned by the leftist radicals in protest. As I sifted through the dirt to properly dispose of the melted bits that remained, I found four stars, singed, yes, but still stars nonetheless. I think these stars serve as a poignant reminder of our efforts to defend the Constitution and our republic against the mindless.

One star will go to Joe Smet, a Marine veteran who worked tirelessly to promote the petition far and wide.

One star will go to Gerald Humphrey, another fellow Marine veteran who stood alongside me when I was at Berkeley.

One star will go to the Marine Recruiting Station, where today's Marines stand in defense of our Constitution and the American way of life. When I visited with them, they were unequivocal: "We are open for business and we will continue to be."

And the last star will go to me, as a personal memento of my efforts and as a symbol of the special trust that so many people chose to put in me as I worked to represent their views.

While there is still work to do, the Berkeley City Council has retreated from its most egregious folly. It still offends, yet it no longer offends the Constitution. Had we not all come together to speak in protest, I doubt that we would have seen this result.

We kept the trust. Semper Fi.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A significant victory

The Berkeley City Council's late-night vote yesterday to retract its effort to remove the Marine Corps Recruiting station from city limits is a clear victory for our petition effort and the efforts of all the pro-Marine supporters. The goal of our petition was to ensure that the City Council respected the Constitution; on the primary issue of attempting to interfere with the Marines' recruiting mission, it has abandoned its most apalling action. While we still have some work to do, that's excellent (and unexpected) news.

I'll have more to say when I get back to DC, including a report on my visit to the Marine Recruiting station yesterday, but all in all, I am very pleased, and deeply grateful for all the support that has been given to this effort.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Your voices have been heard

At around 11:00 PM PT tonight, I got my 60 seconds in front of the Berkeley City Council to deliver our petition. Many eloquent voices spoke before me, including the mother on a Navy SEAL killed in Iraq who shared the story of her son's dedication to individual freedom and the rule of law. It was a deeply profound honor to stand alongside her and give my testimony.

As promised, I focused on the Constitutional question, reminding the Council that Congress has the specifically enumerated right to raise an army, while in contrast, the City has no right to stand against that mission. I said that the Council was doing injustice to their own oath of office and has put themselves at odds with the entire nation. It's been a very long day and I'm sure one could tell I was running on autopilot, but I think I got our essential message out.

That said, I am in no way convinced that this Council is going to retract its insult to our Constitution and our Marines. I got the sense that they are deeply proud of their stance, even as many of their own constituents condemn them for it. I am loath to say it, but I think that this battle has only just begun.

Tomorrow I will visit the Marine recruiting station to survey the situation there. If I find that protesters are permitted to physically barricade the office with no response from local law enforcement, we will have to search for a federal solution to this escalating problem.

Berkeley's Shame

As I was chatting away with a freelance journalist from New Zealand, less than ten feet away from us someone set fire to an American flag that was hung by one of the pro-Marine demonstrators on a sign-post for Berkeley's "Peace Wall." It burned so hot we actually felt the heat in the night air, and it destroyed several bikes that had been chained to the post. Despite an overwhelming police presence, to my knowledge, no one was arrested for the act, the danger that they caused to others or the destruction of private property.

Like many of us, I have debated flag burning in the abstract for years (I respect the freedom to burn one's own flag as much as I deeply detest the act). Never would I imgaine that I'd be right in the glow of such a despicable act.

Why despicable? Because the flag burner choses to heap his bile upon a country that protects his freedom to destroy even a most cherished symbol.

2305 Petition delivered to Berkeley City Council

I'll have more to report when I get my hands on a real keyboard.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Arrived in Berkeley

So here I am. Riot Police. Gas masks. American Flags, and already one shoving match.

It's gonna be a long night . . .

Monday, February 11, 2008

A statement of fact on the Berkeley City Council's anti-Marine debacle

The following is a short background statement that I have prepared for the press as part of our intended delivery of the "Boycott Berkeley" petition this Tuesday. I may tweak it as needed, but I think it generally stands as is.

On January 31, 2008, an ad hoc group of US Marine Corps veterans created an online petition in opposition to the January 29th resolutions of the Berkeley City Council that seek to eject a US Marine Corps recruiting station from within Berkeley city limits and grant preferential treatment to a protest group that works to physically impede the Marine Corps in its recruiting mission. As of February 11th, over 5,000 military veterans and citizens from all 50 states have signed this petition supporting an economic boycott against the City of Berkeley and calling upon the U.S. Congress and the California State Legislature to suspend all federal and state payments that go to support any activity conducted by the Berkeley City Council. This call shall remain in force until such time as the Council chooses to rescind its anti-Marine resolutions.

Support for this petition includes both individuals who support the war as well as those who oppose it on the grounds that the City Council's actions are an assault on the Federal Constitution. Article I, Section VII of the Constitution empowers the Congress with the responsibility to raise and support an army, while Article II, Section II empowers the president with the role of commander in chief. The petitioners hold that no local government can claim for itself the power to prevent the national government from exercising these constitutionally enumerated powers. To attack the Constitution the way the Berkeley City Council has is unacceptable, regardless of where one stands on the war. The petitioners hold that when the different levels of our government disagree, it is a matter to take to our courts, not to the streets.

Furthermore, the petitioners hold that the Berkeley City Council's actions are unfair because they attack the Marines for policy decisions they do not make. The armed forces must remain strictly non-political and obey the Constitution and the laws passed by the Congress. The petitioners hold that anything less than complete fidelity on the part of the armed forces is license for disaster.

Contrary to the opinions put forth by the apologists for the Berkeley City Council's actions, the petitioners hold that this conflict is not over a differing interpretation of the freedom of speech or the right to peaceful assembly. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section II & Section II of the California Constitution each protect the right to peaceful speech and assembly and the petitioners wholeheartedly support these fundamental individual rights. Instead, the petitioners hold that this conflict is over the deliberate and unconscionable actions of a local government that condones lawlessness and seeks to subvert the national government in the name of its own, independent foreign policy.

Thus the message the petitioners seek to convey to the City Council this Tuesday is simple. Whether though ignorance or as part of a willful and deliberate act, the Council's actions are an affront to the fabric of our union and those who protect it. If the Council refuses to correct its errors and fails to refocus its efforts upon insuring impartial and limited government and protecting the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, it will find itself isolated, defunded and striped of its legislative authority. The petitioners seek to remind the City Council that the choice is theirs.
Updated: 2/11 @ 9:55 ET.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Liberal Fascism: A Critical Review

The chief value in Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Doubleday, 2007, 487 pp.) is that it presents a nonpareil history of the origins and ends of American-style statism, a statism many facets of which were admired and emulated by Hitler and Mussolini. This is not a history likely to be required reading in contemporary “social studies” courses in American schools. No member of the NEA or of a teachers union is going to hold up a copy of it to a class, and with a finger tapping the cover with its smiley face and Hitlerian moustache, announce: “We are going to discuss this book all about how the public school system stole you away from your parents, and how it plans to steal your lives, as well, and enlist you into the great organic vitality of society, whether you like it or not, for the greater good.”

Liberal Fascism does not delve as deeply into American political trends as does Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (1982); that is, it does not explicate the philosophical foundations of modern statism. Goldberg covers much the same ground and names the same names as does Peikoff. Peikoff, however, drills far below the surface to the philosophical bedrock of statism; Goldberg probes beneath the tundra but not much further. Goldberg cites the influence of especially German philosophical and political thought brought home by Americans in the period after the Civil War, but not nearly to the extent that Peikoff does.

Nor does Goldberg completely condemn the “good intentions” of American statists. He is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a contributing editor to National Review. In the latter capacity, he cannot question the alleged underpinnings of America’s Judeo-Christian “heritage.” These are what he vainly struggles to defend against the cascading encroachments of a “secular” altruism in politics. I say “vainly” because, at root, he and the conservatives he defends against the charge of fascism share the same “good intentions” as the statists. It is a circle he cannot square.

In spite of National Review’s notorious hostility to Ayn Rand, Goldberg cites her when he discusses the fascist program and spirit of John F. Kennedy:

“Particularly in response to Kennedy’s crackdown on the steel industry, some observers charged that he was making himself into a strongman. The Wall Street Journal and the Chamber of Commerce likened him to a dictator. Ayn Rand explicitly called him a fascist in a 1962 speech, ‘The Fascist New Frontier.’”

Unfortunately, Goldberg does not dwell on this interesting inclusion of Rand, and surprisingly, it is odd that he would invoke her name to help substantiate his correct charge that Kennedy was a fascist (although she is not listed in the book’s index; some of his National Review colleagues helped him edit the book). The text of Rand’s speech has not been included in any recent anthology of her political writings, nor reissued in its original pamphlet form, although excerpts from it can be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, so one wonders where he found it. (Given the nature of today’s political contest, I think the entire speech ought to be reprinted in some form and as widely distributed as possible.) Her inclusion in his book leads one to wonder if he has ever read her other articles, such as “Conservatism: An Obituary,” and “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus.” This is perhaps the first time a prominent conservative writer has called on Ayn Rand, of all thinkers, as a voice of authority. Perhaps this is a measure of her growing influence in the realm of ideas.

I will not reprise my own observations in my commentary “The Left-Wing ‘Conspiracy’ of the Right” (January 22), except to remark that the conservatives have been as leftish as the liberal-left that Goldberg dissects in his book. They have been compelled to partner with the Democrats and statists from default and out of necessity because they have had no credible counter-argument against them. While he masterfully traces the genealogy of American statism, Goldberg soft-pedals, but without excusing it, the “temptation” of conservatives to second the leftists in terms of moral appeal (what he designates “me-too” conservatism). He does not give evidence that he suspects that this is symptomatic of a moral and intellectual bankruptcy as bottomless as that of the left’s. He cannot let go of God and “tradition.” Intellectually, he cannot follow the logic and reach logical conclusions; his faith prevents him and renders him blind to the ominous parallels.

A clue to his inability to follow the path of his thinking to its logical conclusions can be found on page 404, in the chapter “The Tempting of Conservatism”: “Reason alone cannot move men.” In Goldberg, reason stopped when it encountered faith.

Perhaps not so curiously, Goldberg skirts the fundamental religious premises of conservatism, gliding over the subject but never quite alighting on it. Nowhere in his book does he propound that America is a “God-fearing” nation founded on the Ten Commandments. He alludes to it occasionally, but never explicitly expresses it. It is left to the reader to guess what he means. He does not say why the “traditional” values of “hearth, home…and family values” are best. They just are. He does not explain why the alleged conservative “classical liberal” values of private property, free markets, individual liberty, and freedom of conscience are values not to be surrendered to or corrupted by “mommy state” or “God-state” fascism. They just are.

He does not bother to question why indoctrinating American students with a collectivist, multiculturalist perspective on the nature of the U.S., as is being done now, is any worse than indoctrinating them with a religious perspective, which is what most conservatives would prefer. If he had bothered to question it, intellectual honesty would have revealed to him that the non-intellectual nature of both approaches has left Americans defenseless against the self-righteous thuggery and advocacy of force, which is what we are seeing and hearing in virtually every corner of American culture and society. When reason stops moving men, they are fated to succumb to the forces of nature or to the forces of statism. In either case, faith, prayer or earnest wishing will not protect them.

So, this is not an unqualified endorsement of Goldberg’s book. Its chief value is as a guide to just how increasingly statist America has grown for over a century. It does a soldierly job of piecing together the puzzle of today’s political phenomena, such as the rise of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. One can put aside Goldberg’s conservative identity, which is not as intrusive as one might imagine, and focus on what he has to reveal about the ideological parentage of all the presidential candidates and of our economy and politics. There is just too much relevant information and well-reasoned argumentation in Liberal Fascism to dismiss it entirely as a conservative screed.

Goldberg’s central thesis is that right-wing conservatism has been smeared at least since the 1940’s by liberals and the left-wing as a fascist “reactionary” political phenomenon, when, in fact, it has been a semantic shell game to divert criticism from the liberal-progressive-left of being the true fascists, they having consciously and deliberately subjected the nation to censorship, the regimentation of industry and business, the invasion or abrogation of personal liberties, a looting welfare state, and the arbitrary establishment of a command economy governed by a clique of “experts,” all of it directed by the whims and prejudices of a “leader.” Goldberg does not settle for a single definition of fascism, but all the concretes he includes in his description of fascism can be found in the definition of it employed by Rand in her article, “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus” (from The American College Dictionary (1957):

Fascism – a governmental system with strong centralized power, permitting no opposition or criticism, controlling all affairs of the nation (industrial, commercial, etc.)”

The American Heritage Dictionary (1982) has this more detailed definition:

Fascism – A philosophy or system of government that is marked by stringent social and economic control, a strong centralized government usually headed by a dictator, and often a policy of belligerent nationalism.” The belligerency, I might note, is first directed at a nation’s citizens – to control their diets, their amusements, their work lives, their purposes, and their time – before it is directed outward beyond a nation’s borders.

Goldberg writes in the chapter on Woodrow Wilson’s contribution and application of statism,

“Fascism, at its core, is the view that every nook and cranny of society should work together in spiritual union toward the same goals overseen by the state. ‘Everything in the State, nothing outside the State,’ is how Mussolini defined it. Mussolini coined the word ‘totalitarian’ to describe not a tyrannical society but a humane one in which everyone is taken care of and contributes equally. It was an organic concept where every class, every individual, was part of the larger whole.”

It is the nationalist coloring and content of fascism that is fascinating to see described in Goldberg’s book. “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State” has been the unspoken slogan and goal of ambitious fascists from Woodrow Wilson to Adolf Hitler. Listen to the bland, nattering rhetoric of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. Their details differ but their fundamental means and end remain the same. As Rand and Peikoff pointed out in their books and articles, statists today no longer rant about socialism, but rather about the imperatives of “change” and a “new direction,” without identifying what change is necessary or which direction to take – which, in practical political terms, they mean that everyone must change and take the direction they decide the nation must go.

The anti-intellectual, anti-theoretical nature of their emotion-based proposals is a confession that the statists’ programs of the past have brought nothing but disastrous consequences; if everyone and everything were overseen and controlled, then their collectivist/altruist programs would work. If every individual was treated as just part of an “organic” whole, and more importantly, if every individual regarded himself as just a cell in that whole, then the “caring” collectivism would work. Of course, Americans would need to be taught that as an unquestioned absolute. Which is why Clinton especially wants to get hold of children. Raise enough of them to be selfless, sacrificing, volunteering manqués, and they will do her bidding without much prodding or persuasion. They will become doctors, nurses, technicians; and some will serve the public in other capacities, to come knocking on one’s door, or breaking it down, if one attempts to exist “outside the state” and impede by word or deed the nation’s “destined progress.”

Rand captures the tone and content of today’s political battle between the statists in “The New Fascism” (p. 210, in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal):

“Today, nobody talks of a planned society in the ‘liberal’ camp; long-range programs, theories, principles, abstractions, and ‘noble ends’ are not fashionable any longer. Modern ‘liberals’ deride any political concern with such large-scale matters as an entire society or an economy as a whole; they concern themselves with single, concrete-bound, range-of-the-moment projects and demands, without regard to cost, context, or consequences. ‘Pragmatic’ – not ‘idealistic’ – is the favorite adjective when they are called upon to justify the ‘stance,’ as they call it, not ‘stand.’ They are militantly opposed to political philosophy; they denounce political concepts as ‘tags,’ ‘labels,’ ‘myths,’ ‘illusions’ – and resist an attempt to ‘label’ – i.e. to identify – their own views. They are belligerently anti-theoretical and – with a faded mantle of intellectuality still clinging to their shoulders – they are anti-intellectual. The only remnant of their former ‘idealism’ is a tired, cynical, ritualistic quoting of shopworn ‘humanitarian’ slogans, when the occasion demands it.”

Not much has changed since Rand made that speech in 1965, except that the voices of the statists have grown louder, more insistent, and shriller in tandem with their ever-shrinking visions of the collectivist good. (From where I sit, they are growing more and more Hitlerian in volume and style.) Listen to any one of the current presidential candidates or to anyone who advocates some kind of control, regulation or abolition, and one will see just how concrete-bound and range-of-the-moment they all are.

Whether the subject is the environment, or smoking, or obesity, or trans-fats, or mandatory nutritional guides in food, or universal health care, or immigration, or subsidized education – the list is long and growing longer – they advocate an identity-less “humanitarian,” all-inclusive, “one for all, and all for one” collectivism. In short, the statists want to control everything, because anyone or anything left “outside the state” would not only be a threat, but a reproach to their vision, marked for suffocation in the crushing embrace of a “caring” tyranny.

Rand writes in “The New Fascism” that “a system in which the government does not nationalize the means of production, but assumes total control over the economy is fascism.” Clinton has already outlined her intentions. Obama has yet to specify his, although his endorsement by Senator Ted Kennedy should telegraph what those will be. McCain will name his particular causes when he and his advisors think of which ones to campaign for and against to assuage Republican suspicions that he is “one of them.”

Goldberg’s book presents ample evidence that the precedents have been set – during Wilson’s administration, in Herbert Hoover’s, and FDR’s – and that what today’s presumptive “leaders” are proposing is nothing new. Under Wilson, the U.S. got its first taste of an idealistically imposed command economy. Federal intervention in the economy precipitated the stock market crash of 1929 and perpetuated the Depression throughout the 1930’s, giving the pragmatist Roosevelt a host of options to establish another command economy under the New Deal.

Goldberg barely mentions the administrations of Truman, Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon, calling those presidents “caretakers of the welfare state.” It was JFK who reanimated the liberal fascist spirit of an “idealistic” leader, much to the delight of morose advocates of federal power, who had been treading water in the relatively placid 1950’s. One of the countless pieces of the puzzle that Goldberg mentions is that Harold Laski, the British socialist, and on whom Ayn Rand modeled her Fountainhead villain, Ellsworth Toohey, was JFK’s professor at Harvard.

Lyndon Johnson launched the “Great Society.” Goldberg glosses over Jimmy Carter’s contributions to the growth of federal power with almost dismissive contempt, devoting barely two pages to his actions, crediting Carter with the creation of the Energy Department. Of Ronald Reagan, he has nothing bad to say. The Clintons come in for very damaging scrutiny, especially Hillary Clinton, to whom he devotes a long chapter, “Brave New Village.”

George W. Bush, also, does not escape Goldberg’s critical eye. Writing about Bush’s social and economic policies and his campaign for “compassionate conservatism,” he notes,

“The very adjective ‘compassionate’ echoes progressive and liberal denunciations of limited government as cruel, selfish, or social Darwinist. In other words, as a marketing slogan alone, it represented a repudiation of the classical liberalism at the core of modern American conservatism because it assumed that limited government, free markets, and personal initiative were somehow ‘uncompassionate.’”

This is consonant with Goldberg’s thesis that Bush “has probably been called a fascist more than any other U.S. president” – and by the leftists and liberals, who have ascribed to Bush in their semantic shell game the very totalitarian measures they themselves wish to impose, but who would characterize their own repressive, extortionate and expropriating actions as “humanitarian.” (It could be called a form of power-envy.) Goldberg cites Bush’s record-busting legacy as a liberal progressive:

“In 2003, he proclaimed that ‘when somebody hurts,’ it’s the government’s responsibility to ‘move.’ And under Bush, it has. A new cabinet agency has been created [the Department of Homeland Security], Medicare has increased nearly 52 percent, and spending on education went up some 165 percent. From 2001 to 2006 antipoverty spending increased 41 percent, and overall spending reached a record $23,289 per household. Federal antipoverty spending has surpassed 3 percent of GDP for the first time ever. Total spending…has grown at triple the rate under Clinton. Moreover, Bush created the largest entitlement since the Great Society (Medicare Part D).”

Goldberg continues:

“…Bush really is a different kind of conservative, one who is strongly sympathetic to progressive-style intrusions into civil society. His faith-based initiative was a well-intentioned attempt to blur the lines between state and private philanthropy.”

Since when is a “well-intentioned attempt to blur the lines between state and private philanthropy” not a conscious attempt to destroy the wall separating church and state in a “compassionate” effort to introduce theocracy? This is an instance of Goldberg gliding over conservatism’s religious foundation and hidden agenda but never quite elaborating on conservatism’s progressive, “Social Gospel” sympathies. If he can castigate Woodrow Wilson for seeing himself as an “instrument of God,” why not condemn the two Presidents Bush for their “good intentions,” as well?

In fact, is not the whole panoply of the welfare state, with its entitlements, redistributed wealth, regulations, selective censorship, and taboos but a gargantuan “faith based initiative” subscribed to and enforced by secular liberals and religious conservatives alike? Do not both liberal fascists and religious fascists act on “faith” or “confidence” and ask the electorate to grant them the same “faith” and “confidence”?

A symbolic pairing which Goldberg overlooked in his effort to excoriate the liberal fascists is the partnering of former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in their globetrotting “humanitarian” campaigns. They were never really political adversaries. True adversaries do not play golf together and call each other “chum.”

With the reservations expressed above, however, I highly recommend Goldberg’s book if only as a means to educate oneself in the historic scope of statism, its inception and growth in the U.S., not to mention its relatively unknown influences on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Remarking on the timeliness of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, Goldberg writes that the “irony, of course, is that it did happen here.” And continues to, and will continue to until it reaches a point when the smiley face sports a stern, Hitlerian frown – unless Americans rip off those smiley face buttons before it is too late and toss them into the trash, where they belong.

I must credit Goldberg for helping in Liberal Fascism to explode the mystique of statism. But if he is truly concerned about the jeopardy in which free markets, individual liberty, and freedom of speech and thought have been placed, he should subject the conservatives and nascent theocrats to the same merciless examination to which he has subjected the liberal fascists.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sticking up for the 'Semper Fi' Act

A signatory of the "Boycott Berkeley" petition from Ohio sent letters to his congressional delegation expressing his desire that they support the "Semper Fi Act of 2008." This federal legislation introduced by Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) would strip the City of Berkeley and its residents of any hidden congressional earmarks that they currently receive and transfers that money to the Marines. In reply, this signatory received the following e-mail message from the office of Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio):

Dear [Edited for Privacy]:

Thank you for expressing your views regarding comments made by the City Council of Berkeley, California. I appreciate your advocacy for our troops. Their brave service must be supported, appreciated, and honored.

Like you, I was disturbed by the City Council's ill-considered comments; however, stripping federal funding from the city would hurt residents who were not party to those comments and set a precedent inconsistent with the constitutional right to free speech.

In case it is useful to you, I have included the contact information for the City Council of Berkeley. Expressing your views on their comments is an act of civic responsibility that affirms the significance of the free speech rights protected by the first amendment, and I appreciated that you took the time to share your thoughts with me.

Thank you again for contacting me.


Sherrod Brown
Needless to say, I reject the Senator's assessment of the situation in Berkeley and his arguments against the Semper Fi Act. Having a government body give preferential treatment to a private protest group's efforts to barricade a federal office is not free speech. In this case, it is a deliberate act aimed at thwarting a legitimate, non-political government body in performing its well-established mission and it plainly violates the constitution. If different levels of government do not agree, it is an issue for the courts, not the streets.

By Senator Brown's logic (or his staffer's, we all know they don't actually write these things), if the Washington, DC City Council decides that its no longer "business as usual" for the Congress and gives a protest group a free permit to block the city streets leading to the U.S. Capitol, that is allegedly protected speech and it doesn't offend the constitution.

Furthermore, this view that striping Berkeley of its earmarks is somehow cruel to the sea of poor innocents is show's a complete lack of understanding for what is at stake here. This position absolves the people of any responsibility for the actions of their government (a government that I might add is more or less acting in rebellion against the Congressional power to raise an army).

In reality, the Berkeley City Council was elected by the people of Berkeley and this Council has a consistent pattern of engaging in these kinds of shenanigans. If the Council chooses to persist with these acts, the nation has every right to punish the residents of the city for it until such time as their government elects to respect the offices of our federal union. Not only is the "Semper Fi Act" just, the situation is egregious enough to fully demand it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Boycott Berkeley Petition Update II

As of this writing, the Berkeley petition weighs in at 4,070 signatures. Several Marine veterans are organizing an appeal to pay for my travel and lodging so that I my deliver our petition to the Berkeley City Council at its February 12th meeting in person. I encourage the Center's supporters to join in this effort by making a donation via the Center's PayPal account.

If I permitted, I will attempt to meet with some of the city council members individually (at least the one who voted 'nay'). I will also attempt to be put on the list of public commenters to address the council at its public meeting. Reading though the rules, I may only have two minuets to address the council, so I will have to make it the most effective two minuets possible (and I expect that there will be many attempts to interrupt me with the heckler's veto).

My goal will be to explain our effort calmly and plainly, and attempt to speak to the common sense of the situation. I will state that this is not a question of a council member's individual right to be for or against the war, but instead a question concerning the proper role of local government. The Berkeley City Council has taken a stand that attacks our Constitution. Furthermore, by attacking the Marines, it is attempting to punish a strictly non-political government institution for political decisions that it does not make.

Such an attack cannot be expected to come without consequence, and my presence will be to signal that thousands of Americans are willing to cut the City of Berkeley off in answer to its reckless and ill-conceived stand.

Lastly, I will attempt to visit the Marine Recruiting station myself. If denied free entrance by protesters, I intend to use every legal means available to punish those who impede my right to visit the offices of my government.

The Problem We All Live With

I didn't have an opportunity to comment in-depth about the video I posted yesterday that featured Code Pink's protest in front of the Marine Recruiting Station at Berkeley. This video underscores just how bad the situation at Berkeley has become. People interested in contacting a Marine recruiter are forcibly bared by anti-government vigilantes, and the local police stand "neutral" with their hands in their pockets.

Viewing this tape reminds me of Norman Rockwell's famous panting "The Problem We All Live With," except that we have yet to see the proper response to this outrage; we have yet to see federal marshals march into Berkeley to protect an individual's right to access the offices of his government.

I'm beginning to wonder if that is precisely what is needed; since the local authorities seem unwilling to enforce proper laws, intervention by the federal government may become inevitable.

A Motto for America

At the Freakonomics blog, Stephen Dubner challenges readers to compose a six word national motto for the United States [Hat tip: LGF]. Given that this is a New York Times blog, the vast majority of submissions have been resoundingly negative and snide. I say to hell with that. Since I actually love my country and its harvest of virtues, I opt for a resounding affirmative and aspirational motto. Here is my submission:

"In Independence We Find Our Strength"

What would your motto for America be?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


And the Berkeley City police are neutral?!

Code pink
Uploaded by krs601

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

3,000 Signatures!

As of 8:12 PM ET, the "Boycott Berkeley in Support of the Marines" Petition has drawn exactly 3,000 signatures.

After all, it would be cheaper if you were dead . . .

At ReasonPharm, they are drawing out the inevitable conclusion about the Dutch government's recent study that concluded that obese people cost government-funded healthcare schemes less money because they die younger. As ReasonPharm observes:

Nobody, including Pieter van Baal (quoted in the article as saying "We are not recommending that governments stop trying to prevent obesity") wants to say it out loud, but these findings beg the question: Wouldn't it be cheaper if we all died young, before the expense of being old comes on? Wouldn't it be better for government bureaucrats if everyone lived long enough to pay plenty of income taxes, but not long enough to impose the costs of their age-related illnesses? Perhaps instead of banning trans fats and slapping warning labels on cigarettes, the government should be handing out free tobacco and chocolate cake.
Or Soylent Green, perhaps?

'Boycott Berkeley' Petition passes 2,500 mark

At the start of its fourth day, the 'Boycott Berkeley' Petition weighs in at 2,571 signatures. Thank you to those who have already signed it, and if you haven't, I encourage you to do so.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The 'Boycott Berkeley' end-state

In a comment to the post "Why Boycotting Berkeley is Important," Burgess Laughlin asks:

A question for Mr. Provenzo or anyone who supports the petition (which I signed) or boycott: What are your expectations? In other words, a year or 10 years from now, what will likely be the difference in the world in which we live?
If the petition drive and boycott proves successful, I think the difference in our lives will be that it will be far more difficult for the members of the political left to attack the good for their virtues. Regardless of one's views on the war, the Marines are good; they uphold the Constitution that they pledged their lives to defend and they do not deserve the treasonous smears issued against them under the aegis of a local municipality.

My view is that that standing up for the good and declaring that one is willing to put their money where their mouth is signals that while we all respect honest debate, we will not turn a blind eye to brazen dishonesty, and here, like it has been many times before, the left is being brazenly dishonest. The Marines are not a policy-making body to be blamed for decisions that some do not approve of, nor are they genocidal, racist murderers as some have chosen to claim them to be. There are many problems in America that merit our attention, but we cannot permit the left to hijack a city government for the purpose of spreading little more than vicious lies like we have witnessed here.

And that's why I think the petition and its boycott are important, and I'm glad to report that as of 72 hours into this nascent campaign, 2,100 of my fellow Americans have taken a moment of their time to affirm that they agree.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Why Boycotting Berkeley is Important

Last night, I watched the video of the January 29th meeting of the Berkeley City Council where resolutions were passed telling the Marines that they are "unwanted and uninvited guests" with in city limits and applauding those who work to disrupt the Marines from their mission. As I watched the video, I was struck by the brazen irrationality of a Council where pet ideologies are allowed to take center stage and where the publicity-seeking of a few malcontents is allowed to parade as the informed opinion of an entire community.

For example, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Maxwell Anderson, the Marines are little more than "the President's own gangsters" with a shameful history of "naked aggression." This man, who by his own proud admission was thrown out the Marines in the 1960s, called Marine recruiters "liars" who entice our youth to become racist killers. As judged by the fact that Berkeley City Council's passed his resolutions, the majority of the City Council shares Anderson's opinion.

If Councilmember Anderson and his fellow council-members were private citizens, one would care little what they have to say; their absurd ravings can be easily dismissed on their face. But these are not private citizens; they are members of a legislative body that by duty represents all the citizens of their community. These are individuals who have been given a special moral and legislative mandate; a mandate that they have chosen to hijack for their own benighted purposes.

Now as I point out in the online petition I drafted calling for an economic boycott of Berkeley and the suspension of all federal and state payments to the city, the City Council's wrath is grossly misdirected. Even if one chooses to oppose the current war, one must acknowledge that the Marines are not a policy-making body; their efforts are completely guided by the President and the Congress. To attack the Marines is grossly unfair; it essentially demands that the Marines ignore the very Constitution that they pledged their lives to defend.

In fact, the irony of the City Council's anti-Marine resolutions is that if one were to take their spirit completely to heart, one would have to advocate the mutiny of the Marine Corps; even if various hippies, beatniks and other gray-haired relics of the '60s that reside in Berkeley deny it, their can be no other real conclusion. The City Council has declared that at least in principle, it rejects the federal union.

My question then is just who are these individuals to think that the rest of us need them or are under any obligation to tolerate their ridiculous antics? Why should any part of our lives go to support the representatives of a city who hold that our Marines are racist murderers, and that the federal Constitution should be brazenly usurped, and that a local government has any mandate to involve itself in national affairs?

After all, the anti-Marine resolutions are the product of a Berkeley "Peace and Justice" commission; a commission that exists to deliberately involve the city in ideological issues that are utterly un-germane to the management of the city. Why should the rest of us subsidize it (or the citizens who vote to make it possible) though our tax dollars?

I thought that it was telling when it was reported that one of the recipients of federal spending in Berkeley went apoplectic when it was announced that U.S. Senator Jim DeMint would seek to cut Berkeley's federal earmarks. According to the Oakland Tribune, Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for Berkeley Unified, DeMint's threat to pull $87,000 earmarked for her nutrition education program is "shameful."

"For somebody in the government, an elected official, to take away a program that's not only helping kids in Berkeley but is a model for kids across America, is just a travesty," Cooper said.

I say Cooper's rage is wholly misdirected. She should look no further than her city's leaders for someone to blame for the threat to her pork-money (money that I might add neither she nor anyone else in America has a right to receive). Her leaders feel no reticence in attacking the Marines, so I say it is high time those of us who love, honor and respect the Corps stand up and say that such a position comes a price. If the city of Berkeley will not have the Marines, its people should not expect any of the other accoutrements that come with living within our union.

In the broadest sense, the outcry against Berkeley City Council's actions is not about the war (or even about the Marines). It is about what life in a constitutional republic should be, and which leaders are responsible for what actions. As a local government, the Berkeley City Government has grossly overreached its legitimate mandate and it has done so in an obnoxious and offensive way.

In the name of justice, it's time to expose this for what it is: treason against the Republic itself.

Boycott Berkeley Petition Update

In little over 48 hours, 1,300 people have signed the Boycott Berkeley Petition. That's impressive, but I think we can get many, many more signatures. To make that happen, I need your help; we have to make the petition go viral.

I've make two web banners for blogs and websites and I plan to make more later today (They will be posted here). In the meantime, I encourage RoR readers to blog about the petition on you blogs and email your friends.

After all, Berkeley says that it doesn't want the Marines. What would ever make them think that we want them?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sign the Anti-Berkeley City Council Petition and Defend the Marines!

I've created an online petition in defense of the Marines against the resolutions of the City Council of Berkeley which declare that United States Marine Corps recruiters are "uninvited and unwelcome intruders" within Berkeley city limits and applauds those who choose to "impede" the Marines in their recruiting mission.

If you support holding the City Council accountable for its resolutions, you pledge not to conduct any business within the Berkeley city limits or patronize any company which has its headquarters within Berkeley. Furthermore, you signal your desire that the U.S. Congress and the California State Legislature suspend all federal and state payments that support any activity conducted by the Berkeley City Council until such time as the Council chooses to rescind its anti-Marine resolutions.

To sign the petition, click here.

Lastly, these things work best when they go viral. If you support the petition enough to add your name, don't hesitate to share it with your friends.