Category Archives: Editing for Liberty

Seahorses and Style

Hippocampus hystrix

Hippocampus hystrix

When copyediting,* why is it important to follow a written standard — and when should you part company with that standard?

The prime directive for copyeditors is this: be consistent. Whatever decision you make about spelling, punctuation, or the minutiae of syntax, make sure to apply it consistently throughout the document you’re editing. If you aren’t going to follow the strictures of an established style guide, at least maintain your own style guide, even if it’s only a list of the decisions you’ve made so far. (See “What Is a Style Sheet?” for some notes on the terminology here.)
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Capitalism and Spirituality

DollarSunriseOne advantage a libertarian author has when working with Invisible Order is that we in the Order are well read in the relevant literature and have worked extensively with both scholarly and popular texts.

For example, one writer recently asked us what Ludwig von Mises would have to say about a passage he had found online:

Schelling recognized that genuine democracy is only possible given a citizenry aware of the cosmological, anthropological, and theological complexities of authentic freedom. Without a philosophical culture capable of sustaining inquiry into the cosmic and spiritual depths of human nature, the equality rightly demanded by democratic societies can only devolve into the leveling homogenization of consumer capitalism, where freedom is reduced to the ability to identify with the corporate brand of one’s choice. The trivialization and inversion of freedom inherent to “democratic” capitalism makes human beings forgetful of their divine-cosmic ground, functioning not only to alienate individuals from their communities, but humanity from earth.

Here is my reply:

I don’t know anything about Schelling beyond a quick perusal of his page at Wikipedia. I’ve searched Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism for his name and found nothing, so I don’t know what Mises had to say about Schelling’s philosophy or whether or not the student you quote is accurately representing Schelling’s thinking. But he seems to be making a claim that Mises does address at some length — that capitalism promotes materialism and diverts our thinking from more important spiritual concerns:

It is assumed that there is little connection between the two aspects of civilization, that the spiritual is more sublime, deserving, and praiseworthy than the “merely” material, and that preoccupation with material improvement prevents a people from bestowing sufficient attention on spiritual matters. (Theory and History)

According to Mises, this assumption

serves the American socialists as a leading argument in their endeavor to depict American capitalism as a curse of mankind.… Reluctantly forced to admit that capitalism pours a horn of plenty upon people and that the Marxian prediction of the masses’ progressive impoverishment has been spectacularly disproved by the facts, they try to salvage their detraction of capitalism by describing contemporary civilization as merely materialistic and sham. (Theory and History)

Implicit in this position on capitalism and materialism (and, I believe, in the Schelling student’s claims about capitalism making people “forgetful of their divine-cosmic ground”) is a claim about history: “They bemoan the passing of a way of life in which, they would have us believe, people were not preoccupied with the pursuit of earthly ambitions” (Theory and History).

But this implicit historical claim is false: “It is hard to find a doctrine which distorts history more radically than this antisecularism” (Theory and History).

“Modern Western civilization is this-worldly,” Mises concedes. “But it was precisely its secularism, its religious indifference, that gave rein to the renascence of genuine religious feeling” (Theory and History).

“Wisdom and science and the arts thrive better in a world of affluence than among needy peoples” (Theory and History).

“[T]the drop in infant mortality, the prolongation of the average length of life, the successful fight against plagues and disease, the disappearance of famines, illiteracy, and superstition tell in favor of capitalism” (Theory and History).

And here are a couple of passages from Human Action on the classical-liberal belief that laissez-faire promotes the higher concerns:

They [the market liberals] do not share the naïve opinion that any system of social organization can directly succeed in encouraging philosophical or scientific thinking, in producing masterpieces of art and literature and in rendering the masses more enlightened. They realize that all that society can achieve in these fields is to provide an environment which does not put insurmountable obstacles in the way of the genius and makes the common man free enough from material concerns to become interested in things other than mere breadwinning. In their opinion the foremost social means of making man more human is to fight poverty. (Human Action)

The nineteenth century was not only a century of unprecedented improvement in technical methods of production and in the material well-being of the masses. It did much more than extend the average length of human life. Its scientific and artistic accomplishments are imperishable. It was an age of immortal musicians, writers, poets, painters, and sculptors; it revolutionized philosophy, economics, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. And, for the first time in history, it made the great works and the great thoughts accessible to the common man. (Human Action)

I hope I correctly understood the PhD student’s claims and your question about their connection to Misesian thinking, and I hope these passages prove helpful in addressing that question.



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Passive Gunfire

In Mark Bowden’s account of the SEAL Team Six mission that killed Osama bin Laden, he uses a very clever form of the old passive-voice-for-government-violence trick.

The passive voice, for those who need a refresher, is a way of organizing a sentence that downplays the actor and emphasizes that which is acted on. For instance, in the classic passive sentence “Mistakes were made,” the emphasis is on the mistakes. But who made them?

I noted in “The Voice of Tyranny” that the passive voice is especially useful for diffusing responsibility for state violence, as in “the protestor was struck in the head.”

In his account of the SEAL raid on bin Laden’s Abottabad compound, Bowden uses the active voice when the SEALs shoot bin Laden or anyone who is clearly an enemy combatant, but he uses the passive voice every time the SEALS put a bullet in a woman or anyone who might be considered an innocent bystander.
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Have You Been Bitten by a Zombie Quote?

A libertarian author writes,

I confess I was lured to your site when I should have been writing and editing something else. 

It was the zombie quote article.

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The Voice of Tyranny: A Libertarian Look at the Passive Voice

The reporting on a violent incident at the Occupy protests last year reveals the linguistic lengths to which newspapers can go to hide responsibility. The National Post said it best:

Scott Olsen, 24, a former U.S. Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, was struck in the head by a tear gas canister fired on Tuesday by police trying to prevent protesters from reclaiming a public square.

Olsen was standing about 30 feet from the police barricades at Occupy Oakland when the cops launched tear gas and fired bean-bag rounds into the crowd. The hit to Olsen’s forehead knocked him down on the concrete and fractured his skull.

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Editing for Liberty #15: So Long, Friend

Can You Spot the Error?

  1. Firstly, the ratio between demand and supply varies at different points in time, because personal circumstances and future expectations are constantly changing. Secondly, we systematically underrate our “future needs” as well as the “means to meet them.”
  2. For the further development of the Austrian School, Capital and Interest (Die Geschichte und Kritik der Kapitalzinstheorien, 1884) was to be trend-setting in two ways.
  3. The Austrian position is supported by the fact that many things have been used as money throughout history in various parts of the world: commodities such as salt, clam shells, and animal skins.
  4. On the face of it, the solution sounds rather reasonable and has the support of a very popular Congressman.
  5. The Supreme Court could still be relied on to uphold the constitution and safeguard the civil liberties of individual citizens.

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Editing for Liberty #14: A Whale of an Error

Spot the Error

  1. Insurance companies must compete for clients, while the client must bare the fiscal responsibility of his actions.
  2. Whaling is still as prevalent today as anytime in history, due to the close cultural and religious associations the fish has with various indigenous groups of Ainu, Inuit, and the Basque people of the Bay of Biscay.
  3. Obama seems hell bent on expanding the US welfare state at any cost, and of course no welfare state debate is complete without bringing up the Scandinavian countries as the perfect example of massive statism bringing prosperity.
  4. But mass production, if applied to anything beyond the simplest kind of article, depends not only on division of labor and multiple operations, but also on uniformly accurate, interchangeable parts.

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