Category Archives: History

Jeff Riggenbach’s Libertarian Tradition

Libertarian-tradition-creased-cover

Today, I finally get to reveal to you something I’ve been talking about in private meetings and then working on in secret solitude this year.

It’s Jeff Riggenbach’s glorious new ebook, The Libertarian Tradition.

Liberty.me members get it free. Everyone else can buy it on Amazon.com for $8.99.

Riggenbach, widely known as the voice of liberty, has been reading, researching and writing about the history of libertarianism for decades.

The Libertarian Tradition represents the culmination of this work — more than 90 essays by Riggenbach, each focusing on some intriguing person or persons who contributed in their own way to the idea that we humans should live peaceful and free with each other.

Every chapter sparkles with Riggenbach’s erudition, his wry humor, and his gift for storytelling.

He takes you from the rise of the libertarian idea in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, through innovative and playful adaptations by outsiders and novelists in the twentieth century, and right into the current debates in the dawning of the twenty-first.

Get your copy now and savor a piece of the libertarian tradition.

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Class War in the Time of Robin Hood

RobinHoodCroppedOur founder, BK Marcus, has a new article up in the Freeman today, presenting a careful libertarian rethinking of “that paragon of armed social justice, that singular personification of class conflict: Robin Hood.”

BK explains,

As advocates of such voluntary exchange, we too often resist Robin Hood’s rob-from-the-rich morality, as we resist any talk of fundamental conflicts of interest between different classes. But the targets of Robin Hood and his merry men—like the targets of the Peasants’ Revolt—were rich from plunder, not production.

Like the radical liberals of the nineteenth century, the “peasant” rebels of the 1300s—when Robin Hood’s exploits fired the imagination of an oppressed people—recognized that their enemies were the tax collectors, legislators, and all other members of the political class.

Read the Freeman and enjoy.

PS: Which one is more libertarian — the Russell Crowe or the Kevin Costner Robin Hood? Comment below to take a side.

 

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Proud Little Englander

(Image from Shutterstock)

(Image from Shutterstock)

Ever wonder what a “Little Englander” is? See BK Marcus’s article on how “words from Victorian England continue to haunt advocates of freedom and peace” in today’s Freeman.

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A Note from a Freeman Reader

One very pleasant aspect of publishing in the Freeman is that I get to see the online article first, then a couple of months later I receive the print magazine (seeing my stuff in print still has a special appeal, much as I advocate digital), and then a few weeks later I sometimes get the more thoughtful notes that come from print readers:

Subject: Black Death and Taxes

Dear Mr. Marcus:

I have been reading The Freeman for fifty years or more now, and even though it is reaching the point that nearly everything in it is something I have heard before, every once in a while it supplies me with a new insight or piece of enlightening information. That was the case with your article in the most recent issue. When I read it I immediately rushed across the anteroom in the social science complex here at MSU-Northern to see what my colleague, a historian of libertarian inclination thought, and he confirmed everything you said.

Thanks.

James R. Edwards, Ph.D. (Economics)
Montana State University-Northern

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TV’s Third Golden Age

FreemanHouseOfCards4IOOur own BK Marcus is in the Freeman again today, with a post on the latest wave of great TV shows.

As he explains,

TV dramas now are cinematic in their production values, carefully edited, and serial in their narrative structure. In the first golden age, mistakes by the actors and mishaps in staging went out live to the TV audience—and the best remembered dramas were complete, single-episode stories, written and directed as stage plays for the camera.

Perhaps most significantly, the shows that stand out today—Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Homeland, Breaking Bad, and Spacey’s own House of Cards—are produced for cable networks, premium channels, and private subscription services, where advertising is minimal or altogether absent.

In contrast, the era that first became known as the Golden Age of Television was arguably pure advertising: sponsors not only attached their names to the TV shows they sponsored—Kraft Television Theater, Goodyear TV Playhouse, The US Steel Hour—they developed shows, produced them, and paid the networks to put them on the air.

What really makes great TV? Read BK’s complete article to find out.

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Hedwig Kiesler (Hedy Lamarr), Ekstase (1933

Hedwig Kiesler (Hedy Lamarr), Ekstase (1933

Over at the Foundation for Economic Education, BK Marcus has a neat piece up about a beautiful actress, an inventor of torpedo technology, and a misguided idealist — and they’re all the same person: Hedy Lamarr.

His article begins

Hedy stands naked in a field. She looks off-camera in dismay as her horse gallops away with the clothes she had draped over its back so she could take a dip in a woodland pond.

She is not called Lamarr yet. That name will come later, in Hollywood. For now she is still Hedwig Kiesler, a Viennese teenager in Prague, playing her first starring role in a feature film, Ekstase (“Ecstasy,” 1933). The controversial Czechoslovakian film will become famous for Hedy’s nude scenes and its sex scenes (which show only her face, in close-up, in the throes of passion).

The film will give Hedy her first taste of fame. She will be known as the Ecstasy girl. An Austrian director will tell the press, “Hedy Kiesler is the most beautiful girl in the world.” Later, MGM movie mogul Louis B. Mayer will repeat the claim, using the name he insisted she change to: Hedy Lamarr.

But while the world of her time will remember her for her photogenic beauty, history will remember her as the inventor of frequency hopping, the foundational technology of today’s mobile phones and wireless Internet.

How a Hollywood starlet invented the means of secure wireless data transfer is fascinating, and there are thorough accounts of the story in recent books and television shows. What is less thoroughly addressed is why an invention from World War II didn’t see widespread use until the turn of the century.

Read the full story at FEE.org.

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Worshipping the Wrong Goddess

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BK Marcus writes in the Freeman on the statue that inspired the protests in Tiananmen Square. She looked like the Statue of Liberty, but the protestors called her the Goddess of Democracy …

To American eyes, she looked like a Chinese version of the Statue of Liberty, her torch of freedom held aloft over Tiananmen’s huddled masses. The art students who had quickly assembled the foam statue over a bamboo scaffolding had deliberately avoided creating something that seemed “too openly pro-American”—even basing the style on the Cold War art of the Soviet socialist realists—but even with her Chinese features and a two-handed grip on the torch, the comparison with Lady Liberty was unavoidable.

But while the statue in New York Harbor represents Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, the protestors in Tiananmen Square were worshipping a different deity. They called their statue the Goddess of Democracy.

The tanks rolled in and crushed the goddess beneath their treads, but her symbolic power remains, and her likeness now appears in the form of commemorative statues throughout the world.

The authoritarian state may have won the battle, but the war for freedom lasts longer than our history textbooks would have us believe.

To read more about liberty, democracy, and the mismatch between them, see the complete article over at FEE.org.

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The Oxford comma: Kerouac vs. Burroughs

OxCommaKerouacVsBurroughs

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by | July 22, 2013 · 8:00 am

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.

Thanks,

BK

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The Power of Habeas Corpus

HabeasCorpusCoverMy friend and comrade Anthony Gregory, whom I blogged about here, has written a big, scholarly book: The Power of Habeas Corpus in America: From the King’s Prerogative to the War on Terror (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

I’m sorry to say I have not read it yet. It lists for about a hundred bucks, but you can get a copy from the Independent Institute at a steep discount.

I knew that Anthony was writing it, and I knew the general topic, but it wasn’t until I read Allen Mendenhall’s review in the Freeman that I understood how radical, and how very Gregoryesque, the book turns out to be:

Sometimes it takes a non-lawyer like Gregory to remind lawyers of the philosophical implications of the practical and everyday functions of the law. Likewise, it takes a philosopher, again like Gregory, to show that a series of small legal victories is really one big loss in a larger scheme.

The foundational legal principle of habeas corpus is really one big loss? The principle that the state can’t hold you without cause, the one that Sir William Blackstone called “the most celebrated writ in the English law”? Does this mean that Thomas Jefferson was wrong to say, “Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume.” How can libertarians oppose a legal doctrine that limits state power and secures individual rights?

Mendenhall writes,

Gregory’s scope is wide. He maps more than 400 years of legal history in roughly 400 pages and reminds us that the origin of the habeas remedy was not libertarian: “The king’s courts developed habeas corpus to centralize judicial authority and collect revenue.” His impressive sweep of history recognizes that “it took centuries before the writ was genuinely turned against the king’s oppression.” Ever since the Norman conquest, if not earlier, the writ of habeas corpus has been tied to royal or governmental prerogative. In the seventeenth century, in fact, the writ served as a procedural mechanism for ensuring that prisoners remained in prison rather than being released from prison.…

“For every vindication of a custodian’s power,” Gregory explains, “the authority to detain is upheld. For every undermining of a custodian’s power, there is the affirmation of another official’s power — a judge’s power, to say nothing of the state’s general power to decide whom to detain.”…

At once a tool of liberation and authority, the writ of habeas corpus undermines State authority even as it validates and solidifies that authority. In other words, it enables the very power that it subverts. Because it destabilizes institutionalized power ultimately to sustain that power, the writ is, in Gregory’s words, “mythical” and retains an “idealistic mystique” … a “tool of usurpation and centralization.”

Mendenhall lauds Gregory’s approach and recommends it to “libertarian jurists and jurisprudents who appear to be moving toward stodgy consensus on a number of pressing legal issues.”

It might be that other pet favorites of these legal libertarians — say, incorporation of the Bill of Rights against the states — are really short-term techniques serving as vehicles to long-term, centralized power.

The book review is well worth a thorough read, as is, I’m sure, the book it reviews.

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