Category Archives: History

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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Filed under Austrian Economics, Editing for Liberty, History, Libertarian Letters

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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The Real Lincoln in His Own Words

Lincoln-Uncensored-CoverThomas DiLorenzo writes today in LewRockwell.com about an “important new, must-read book,” a “great work of scholarship,” which will help Americans to wean themselves off the propaganda from “politically-correct, heavily state-censored textbooks or movies made by communistic-minded Hollywood hedonists.”

What is this book that brings such high praise?

Why, it’s Lincoln Uncensored of course, by Joseph E. Fallon. (Buy it now, complete with a new preface by Jeffrey Tucker, on Amazon.com.)

Here’s more of what DiLorenzo has to say about it:

I was taught in public elementary school in Pennsylvania that Abe was so honest that he once walked six miles to return a penny to a merchant who undercharged him (and six miles back home). He was supposedly so tendered hearted that he cried after witnessing the death of a turkey. He suffered in silence his entire life after witnessing slavery as a teenager.…

The real Lincoln was a dictator and a tyrant who shredded the Constitution, fiendishly orchestrated the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens, and did it all for the economic benefit of the special interests who funded the Republican Party (and his own political career). But don’t take Joseph Fallon’s or Thomas DiLorenzo’s word for it. Read the words of Abe Lincoln himself. That is what Fallon allows everyone to do in his great work of scholarship, Lincoln Uncensored.

We’re prouder than ever to be the producers of Joseph Fallon’s great ebook. Buy it now.

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Did Capitalism Give Us the Laugh Track?

201305301_laughdetail

In BK Marcus’s latest Freeman article, he takes on the development of that mawkish, pedantic habit of old TV comedies: the laugh track. Is capitalism really responsible for canned laughter?

Dartmouth College Psychology professor Bill Kelley studies the brain’s response to humor. He explains, “We’re much more likely to laugh at something funny in the presence of other people. Hearing others laugh—even if it’s prerecorded—can encourage us to chuckle and enjoy ourselves more.”

If capitalism is mass production for the masses, then perhaps the laugh-track-loving executives at the networks were just giving the people what they wanted. Maybe the critics are just snobs, blaming the market for the facts of supply and demand.

Greater competition in the pursuit of profit, however, has now actually pushed canned laughter into full retreat. The studio system that allowed the laugh track to dominate television had its roots in patterns of government intervention laid down before television even came about.

Read the whole thing in the Freeman online.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, History

America’s first individualist anarchist featured on Wikipedia

AnneHutchinsonTrialWikipedia‘s featured article today is on Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643). Not only that, but their quote of the day is by Anne Hutchinson: “If you please to give me leave I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true.”

You have to read the full article to find buried, and in a single line, this about her: according to Murray Rothbard, Hutchinson was America’s first individualist anarchist.

Read his article about her, excerpted from Conceived in Liberty.

(This isn’t just Rothbard’s pet theory, by the way. Eunice Minette Schuster came to the same conclusion about Hutchinson and the antinomians in general in her 1932 book Native American Anarchism.)

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