Socialism: Marking a Century of Death and Destruction

By Richard Ebeling

In August of 1993 I was in invited to participate in a conference in Vilnius, Lithuania on “Liberty and Private Business.” This was less than two years after the formal disappearance of the Soviet Union as a political entity on the map of the world.

During our time there my wife and I were offered the opportunity to be given a tour of the building that had served as the headquarters of the local KGB, the infamous Soviet secret police. Our guide was a man who had been a prisoner in its walls in the late 1950s. The most nightmarishly part of the tour was the basement containing the prison cells and the interrogation rooms.

Going Through Hell at the Hands of the KGB

As we reached the bottom of the staircase our guide pointed to a small closet-like space and said, “Here was the first stop on the victim’s journey to hell.” The prisoner would be stripped of all clothes, naked, and placed in this windowless, pitch-black closet for several hours. This was the start of the psychology of torture. Left naked in absolute darkness for hours, the victim could only have the most frightening imaginings about why he or she had been arrested, what might be done to them, and whether they would ever see their family and friends again.

Finally, they would be taken out and brought to a nearby interrogation room. The KGB interrogators asked him or her why they were an “enemy of the people,” what acts of espionage or sabotage or dissent they had committed? Who were their accomplices, and what were their names? The interrogators would insist that the prisoner sign a confession, usually already prepared for his or her signature, specifying their “crimes” against “the people” and the Communist Party. They just needed the names of his or her co-conspirators.

There had been active opponents among the Lithuanian population after the retreat of the Germans and the return of the Soviet Army and communist control in 1944-1945 at the end of the Second World War. Some Lithuanians fought a guerilla war in the forests against the Soviet military well into the early 1950s. After all, Lithuania had lost its national independence as a result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939, which turned over all three of the Baltic Republics – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania –to the tender care of the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin. And the Lithuanians had wanted to be a free nation again. (See my article, “How Lithuania Helped Take Down the Soviet Union.”)

But, in reality, virtually all of those arrested and interrogated had committed no “crimes against the State,” other than being on the wrong end of the accusations of others, who were, themselves, either informers or who had given names under similar interrogation. Perversely, a claim of innocence by a prisoner was taken as proof that they were obviously hiding something. And, besides, it did not matter if the person was innocent or not; the KGB higher authorities expected “results” in the form of confessions and names to pass on to their superiors in Moscow. So the interrogators had to have them.

The next stage of the process, if the confession was not forthcoming, was the use of physical torture in various excruciating forms until the prisoner met the interrogators’ demands. As further pressure, family members would be threatened with arrest and that they would be tortured or even killed right before the prisoner’s eyes if they did not confess. It might take days or even weeks, but most of those brought to that KGB basement eventually broke.

They would, then, be told that they were being transferred to another prison. Some were, often on their way to a forced labor camp. But many would be taken to another room in the basement, on one wall of which was a meter stick. They would be told that they would be given a physical examination before being moved. Told to stand with their back against the meter stick to measure their height, a small trapdoor would open behind their head and a KGB executioner would shoot them dead.

Their lifeless body would be carried to another room where they would be placed on a steel table and any gold fillings would be removed from their teeth. Their bodies would be carried out of the basement through a back door and placed into a truck to be buried in a nameless mass grave with others who went through the same conveyor belt of KGB horror.

Just three weeks earlier, my wife and I had been in Austria and had visited the Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen near the city of Linz.  What struck us after our tour of the KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Lithuania was just how similar the Nazi and Soviet methods had been. Indeed, in Mauthausen were the same steps and stages of arrest, psychological terror, interrogation and torture, murder through a trapdoor behind a meter stick, and the removal of gold fillings. The only difference between the German National Socialist and the Soviet communist techniques was that the Nazis threw the dead bodies into ovens to reduce them to ash and bone chips before disposal. The Soviets simply discarded the bodies in mass graves.

Communism Has Reeked of Mass Murder

The entire history of communism in the twentieth century was that of tyranny, terror and torture. Not one country that followed the Soviet revolutionary model in the hundred years after the Bolshevik Revolution in November 1917 practiced anything noticeably different in form or content.

The noted Russian mathematician and Soviet-era dissident, Igor Shafarevich, who died on February 19, 2017 at the age of 93, ended his 1975 book, The Socialist Phenomenon, with the following conclusion and indictment:

Most socialist doctrines and movements are literally saturated with the mood of death, catastrophe and destruction . . . One could regard the death of mankind as the final result to which the development of socialism leads.

Is this too extreme a statement? Perhaps not, given that learned historians of the communist experience in the twentieth century had estimated that in the name of building the bright, beautiful socialist society of the future as many as 150 million to possibly 200 million unarmed, innocent men, women and children were shot, tortured, starved, or worked to death in labor camps as “enemies of the people.” (See my article, “The Human Cost of Socialism in Power”)

Estimates suggest that as many as 64 to 68 million people may have died at the hands of the communist regime in these ways during the nearly 75 years of the Soviet Union. Others have suggested that as many as 80 million of such innocent people may have been killed, again, from starvation, torture, labor camp work or execution in China from 1949 when the communist regime came to power to 1976 when Mao Zedong died.

Classical Liberalism’s Liberation of Mankind

For nearly all of recorded history, there have been people who have hoped for and dreamed about a world without want or worry, a world in which cruelty and corruption did not darken the societies in which human beings lived. Power and plunder, indeed, have been the hallmarks of virtually every community of men through the ages. But these dreamers wondered if there was not a better way.

The liberation of humanity from poverty and tyranny only began in any meaningful way a little over three hundred years ago with the rise of what has become known as classical liberalism. A political philosophy of individualism began to take form that challenged and began a process of overthrowing the presumptions and practices of hereditary monarchies, religious rationales for governmental absolutism, and the stranglehold of Mercantilist regulations, restrictions and controls over almost every facet of economic life in such nation-states as Imperial Great Britain and Royal France.

We should take a moment to recall the actual achievements of this earlier classical liberalism, especially in the nineteenth century: It campaigned for and brought about the abolition of the institution of human slavery, first in the West and then through much of the rest of the world. It spearheaded legal reforms that moved society toward a greater degree of impartial rule of law, and an equality of civil rights for growing numbers of citizens in the form of freedom of speech, the press, religion, and peaceful association. It also brought an end to the pervasive practice of cruel and unusual punishments by the agents of law enforcement.

Classical liberalism reined in the powers and prerogatives of kings and princes by transforming political absolutism into either constitutionally-restrained monarchies or by replacing them with republican forms of representative government; and in both, over time, more and more members of these societies were extended the voting franchise until the principle of universal suffrage became the rule.

Classical Liberals Against War and for Rules of War

In international affairs, classical liberals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were the opponents of imperialism and war. They emphasized that kings and even parliaments may wax eloquent about national greatness, manifest destinies, and white men’s burdens, but it was the subjects and citizens of the imperial and colonial mother countries who had to fight the wars, suffer the human losses and bear the fiscal burdens of conquering and colonizing faraway parts of the globe. In the same process, they said, imperial adventures equally imposed hardships and foreign rule on those people in faraway lands who did not wish for foreign masters dictating and directing their destinies.

One other accomplishment of that earlier era of classical liberalism was the fostering through international treaty a variety of formal “rules of war.” Nations at war were required to provide humane treatment for captured enemy prisoners; an occupying power was expected to respect the life and property of foreign, civilian non-combatants under their control due to the conflict; and there were to be restraints on the types and uses of weaponry permissible among “civilized” nations at war with each other to limit the death and destruction from combat, itself.

Classical Liberalism Freed the Marketplace for Prosperity

Finally, classical liberalism opened the door and ushered in a never-seen-before epoch in a rising material human betterment for all in society, and no longer just for a small privileged few around the monarch or among the privileged religious orders. Modern free market capitalism was set free from the spider’s web of Mercantilist economic planning and control. Individuals were declared to have individual rights to their life, liberty and honestly acquired property as the means to a pursuit of personal happiness.

Classical economists like Adam Smith explained that for there to be wealth and prosperity for the general population all that was needed is “system of natural liberty” under which each individual is free to follow his own self-interest in peaceful associative exchange in an open, competitive marketplace. With an emerging interdependent system of division of labor the only way to improve one’s own circumstances is to apply one’s talents and abilities to producing and offering on the market those things that others want and desire as the peaceful means of earning the financial wherewithal to, reciprocally, purchase from those others the goods and services desired for one’s own goals and purposes.

Respected individual rights, private property, and free markets enabled the beginning of a new dawn for humanity: mass production for the mass of mankind, brought about by the profit-motive as each individual, in their own self-interest, had to devise ways to make new, better and less expensive goods in the peaceful rivalry of market competition. The entrepreneurial spirit was set free from the dead hand of state control. And the economic revolution that has resulted in so much of the economic plenty and prosperity that we so easily take for granted was set in motion.

Of course, the transitional process from general poverty to widening prosperity in the nineteenth century occurred slowly over time in the West, with not everyone simultaneously experiencing the improvements or to the same degree. Rising prosperity and the potential for even more plenty existed side-by-side with highly visible remaining poverty along with those whom the capitalist engine of betterment had not yet noticeably touched.

As a number of historians and others have observed, never do the imperfections in the human condition and the circumstances of society arouse so much indignation and impatience with the pace of improvement as when those imperfections are, in fact, beginning to be widely diminished. Thus emerged one of the appeals for an alternative, socialist way. (See my article, “Before Modern Collectivism: The Rise and Fall of Classical Liberalism.”)

Communism and the Idea of a Malleable Human Nature

The idea of communism – the common sharing of productive property and its resulting output – is as old as the ancient Greeks and Plato’s conception of the ideal Republic in which the guardians all live and work in common under the presumption that a radical change in the social institutional setting will transform men from self-interested beings into altruistic servers to some defined needs of society as a whole.

This gets us to a fundamental difference and distinction in the conception of man in the classical liberal versus socialist worldviews concerning men and mankind. Does man have a basic and invariant human nature that may be multi-sided and complex, but no less fixed in certain qualities and characteristics? Or is human nature a malleable substance that can be remolded like clay in the sculptor’s hands, by placing human beings into radically different social arrangements and settings?

Classical liberals have argued for the former, that human beings are basically what they are: fairly reasonable, self-interested beings, guided by goals of personal improvement and betterment as the individual comes to define those for himself. The social dilemma for a humane, just and widely prosperous society is how to foster a political and economic institutional order to harness that invariant quality in human nature so that it advances human betterment in general rather than used to plunder others.  The classical liberal answer is, basically, Adam Smith’s system of natural liberty with its open, competitive free market order, as earlier explained.

Members of what was emerging as the socialist movement in the late eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century argued the opposite. They insisted that if men were selfish, greedy, uncaring and insensitive to the circumstances of their fellow men it was due to the institution of private property and its related market-based system of human association. Change the institutional order in which human beings live and work and you will create a “new man.”

Indeed, they raised to the ultimate human societal ideal a world in which the individual would live and work for the collective, the society as a whole, rather than only for his own bettered circumstances at the presumed expense of others in society. Socialism heralded the ethics of altruism.

The interested student can read through a huge range of socialist literature by a host of advocates of collectivism. Some longed for a more agrarian and rural paradise; others envisaged an industrial future for mankind in which productivity will have reached the point at which machines did virtually all the work. Humanity would be set free, to use a version of one of Karl Marx’s imageries, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon and sit around the fireplace discussing socialist philosophy with one’s comrades who had all been liberated from work and worry by the arrival of the communist post-scarcity heaven-on-earth. (See my article, “Karl Marx’s Misconceptions about Man and Markets.”)

Changing Human Nature Needs a “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”

But the core conception of the coming paradise-on-earth is that man’s nature could and should be made to change. There are few places in Karl Marx’s writings in which he actually speaks of the institutions and workings of the socialist society that will come after the downfall of capitalism. One is in his 1875 work, Critique of the Gotha Program, the policy agenda of a rival socialist group that Marx strongly disagreed with.

The dilemma, Marx explains, is that even after the overthrow of the capitalist system, residues of the previous system would permeate the new socialist society. First, there would be the human remnants of the now discarded capitalist system. Among them would be those who want to restore the system of worker exploitation for their own ill-gotten profit gains. Equally a problem would be the fact that the “working class,” although freed from the “false consciousness” that the capitalist system under which they had been exploited was just, would still bear the mark of the capitalist psychology of self-interest and personal gain.

Thus, there had to be in place and in power a “revolutionary vanguard” of dedicated and clear seeing socialists who would lead “the masses” into the bright, beautiful future of communism. The institutional means of doing this, said Marx, is the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

In other words, until the masses, the workers, are freed from the individualist and capitalist mindset that they had been born into and mentally made to act within, they needed to be “reeducated” by a self-appointed political elite that has liberated their minds, already, from the capitalist false consciousness of the past. In the name of the new socialist-era freedom-to-come, there must the reign of a dictatorship made up of those who know how humanity should think, act and associate in preparation for the full communism waiting ahead for mankind.

At the same time, the dictatorship is necessary to suppress not only any attempts by the former capitalist exploiters to restore their power over the, now, socialized property they used to own. These voices from the capitalist past also must be prevented from speaking their self-serving lies and deceptions about why individual, self-interested liberty is morally right, or that private property serves the betterment of all in society including workers, or that freedom means those “bourgeois” liberties of freedom of the press, or speech or religion or democratic voting. The masses must be brought to, indoctrinated in, the “true” consciousness that freedom means the collective ownership and direction of the means of production and the selfless serving of society that the socialist revolutionary vanguard in charge knows to be true.

This also explains why the socialist phase of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” could never end in any of the Marxist-inspired revolutionary regimes over the last one hundred years. Human nature is not waiting to be remolded like wax into a new human form and content. Human beings seem generally not be hardwired to be altruistic, selfless eunuchs. Thus, self-interest always rises to the surface in people’s conduct, and if it is to be ethically denied, there must be political force to keep repressing it and trying to constantly extinguish it.

In addition, as long as there were capitalist enemies anywhere in the world, the dictatorship of the proletariat had to be preserved in the socialist countries to assure that the reeducated minds of the workers already lucky enough to live under socialism were not re-infected by capitalist ideas coming in from outside the people’s collectivist paradise. Hence, the “iron curtain” of censorship and thought control in the Marxist parts of the world, in the name of the people over whom the revolutionary vanguard ruled.

Socialist Economic Planning Equals Commanding People

Also, once private enterprise was abolished through the socialization of the means of production and brought under the control and direction of the socialist government, a central economic plan was now essential. If not the profit-motived individual entrepreneurs in directing the private enterprises under their ownership to satisfy consumer demands guided by the competitive price system, then someone must determine what gets produced, where, when and for which purpose and use.

The direction of “the people’s” collectivized means of production requires a centralized plan concerned with designing, implementing and imposing it on everyone for the good of the society as a whole. This means not only lumber and steel must be assigned a use in a particular place in the socialist society, but so must people. Hence, in the communist economies of the twentieth century the state’s central planning agencies determined who would be educated for what skills or expertise, where they would be employed and the work they would do.

Since the state educated you, assigned you work and served as your only employer in that job, the state also determined where you would live; not only in what city, town or village, but what apartment in which government owned residential building would be made your abode. Recreational facilities, places for rest and vacations, the types of consumer goods to be produced and distributed where and for whom, these, too, were all centrally determined by the socialist planning agencies following the orders of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Not one corner of everyday life – its form, content, quality, or characteristics – was free from the control and determination of the all powerful and all-encompassing socialist state. Its design and attempted implementation was truly “totalitarian.” It may have been Benito Mussolini, the father of fascism, who coined the term, “totalitarianism” as meaning “everything in the state, nothing against the State, nothing outside the state.” But nowhere over the last century was this more insistently, pervasively and coercively imposed than in the communist countries molded on the model of the Soviet Union as created by Vladimir Lenin and horrifyingly institutionalized by Josef Stalin and their successors

From Radical Revolutionary to Privileged Bureaucrat

I would also like to point out that the very nature of socialism-in-practice in communist societies demonstrated the invariant quality of self-interested human nature that Karl Marx and other collectivists insisted in denying. The great German sociologist, Max Weber (1864-1920), offered an understanding of the evolution of socialist regimes in the twentieth century from revolutionary radicalism to a stagnant system of power, privilege and plunder, manned by self-interested Soviet socialist office holders.

Max Weber, in his posthumously published monumental treatise, Economy and Society (1925), defined a charismatic leader as one who stands out from the ordinary mass of men because of an element in his personality viewed as containing exceptional powers and qualities. He is on a mission because he as been endowed with a particular intellectual spark that enables him to see what other men do not, to understand what the mass of his fellow men fail to comprehend.

But his authority, Weber explains, does not come from others acknowledging his powers, per se. His sense of authority and destiny comes from within, knowing that he has a truth that he is to reveal to others and then knowing that truth will result in men being set free; and when others see the rightness of what he knows, their following his leadership emerges as the obvious and inevitable.

Certainly Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) fit that description. While many who met or knew him pointed out his either non-descript or even unattractive physical appearance and presence, most emphasized at the same time Lenin’s single-mindedness of being on a “mission” for which he had absolute confidence and unswerving determination, and due to which others were drawn to him and accepted his leadership authority.

Surrounding Lenin, the charismatic, was an array of disciples and comrades who were called and chosen, and saw themselves as serving the same mission: the advancement of the socialist revolution. As Weber says:

The . . . group that is subject to charismatic authority is based on an emotional form of communal relationship . . . It is . . . chosen in terms of the charismatic qualities of its members. The prophet has his disciples . . . There is a ‘call’ at the instance of the leader on the basis of the charismatic qualification of those he summons . . .

The  “chosen” group renounces (at least in principle, if not always in practice) the material temptations of the worldly circumstances, which the goal of their “mission” is meant to overthrow and destroy. And, this too, marked the often conspiring, secretive and sometimes Spartan lifestyle of Marxist revolutionaries. Max Weber explained:

There is no such thing as salary or a benefice. Disciples or followers tend to live primarily in a communistic relationship with their leader . . . Pure charisma . . . distains and repudiates economic exploitation of the gifts of grace as a source of income, though to be sure, this often remains more an ideal than a fact . . . On the other hand, ‘booty’.  .  . whether extracted by force or other means, is the other typical form of charismatic provision of needs.

But once the charismatic and his followers are in power, a transformation soon occurs in their behavior and relationship to the rest of the society. Now it becomes impossible to stand outside of the flow of the mundane affairs of daily life. Indeed, if they do not immerse themselves in those matters, their power over society would be threatened with disintegration.  Slowly, the burning fervor of ideological mission and revolutionary comradeship begins to die. Said Max Weber:

Only the members of the small group of enthusiastic disciples and followers are prepared to devote their lives purely and idealistically to their calling. The great majority of disciples and followers will in the long run ‘make their living’ out of their ‘calling’ in a material sense as well . . . Hence, the routinization of charisma also takes the form of the appropriation of powers of control and of economic advantages by the followers and disciples and the regulation of the recruitment of these groups . . .

Correspondingly, in a developed political body the vassals, the holders of benefices, or officials are differentiated from the ‘taxpayers.’ The former, instead of being ‘followers’ of the leader, become state officials or appointed party officials . . . With the process of routinization the charismatic group tends to develop into one of the forms of everyday authority, particularly . . . the bureaucratic.

I would suggest that in Max Weber’s analysis we see the outline of the historical process by which a band of Marxist revolutionaries, convinced that they saw the dictates of history in a way that other mere mortals did not, took upon themselves to be the midwives of that history through violent revolution.

But as the embers of socialist victory cooled, such as in Russia after the revolution of 1917 and the bloody three-year civil war that followed, the revolutionaries had to turn to the mundane affairs of “building socialism.” Building socialism meant the transformation of society, and the transforming of society meant watching, overseeing, controlling and commanding everything.

Self-Interest and the New Socialist “Class Society”

Hence, was born in the new Soviet Union what came to be called the Nomenklatura. Beginning in 1919, the Communist Party established the procedure of forming lists of government or bureaucratic positions requiring official appointment and the accompanying lists of people who might be eligible for promotion to these higher positions of authority. Thus was born the new ruling class under socialism.

Ministries needed to be manned, Party positions needed to be filled, nationalized industries and collective farms needed managers assigned to supervise production and see to it that central planning targets were fulfilled, state distributions networks needed to be established, trade unions needed reliable Party directors, and mass media needed editors and reporters to tell the fabricated propaganda stories about socialism’s breakthrough victories in creating a new Soviet Man in his new glorious collectivist society.

Contrary to the socialist promises of making a new man out of the rubble of the old order, as one new stone after another was put into place and the socialist economy was constructed, into the cracks between the blocks sprouted once again the universals of human nature: The motives and psychology of self-interested behavior, the search for profitable avenues and opportunities to improve one’s own life and that of one’s family and friends, through the attempt to gain control over and forms of personal use of the “socialized” scarce resources and commodities within the networks and interconnections of the Soviet bureaucracy.

Since the state declared its ownership over all the means of production, it was not surprising that as the years and then the decades went by more and more people came to see membership in the Nomenklatura and its ancillary positions as the path to a more prosperous and pleasant life. In the end, the socialist state did not transform human nature; human nature found ways to use the socialist state for its own ends.

The system of privilege and corruption that Soviet socialism created was explained by Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007), the Russian Communist Party member who, more than many others, helped bring about the end of the Soviet Union and an independent Russia in 1991 that at first tried democracy. In his book, Against the Grain (1990), Yeltsin explained:

The Kremlin ration, a special allocation of normally unobtainable products, is paid for by the top echelon at half its normal price, and it consists of the highest-quality foods. In Moscow, a total of 40,000 people enjoy the privilege of these special rations, in various categories of quantities and quality. There are whole sections of GUM – the huge department store that faces the Kremlin across Red Square – closed to the public and specially reserved for the highest of the elite, while for officials a rung or two lower on the ladder there are other special shops. All are called ‘special’: special workshops, special dry cleaners, special polyclinics, special hospitals, special houses, and special services. What a cynical use of the world!

The promised “classless society” of material and social equality was in fact the most granulated system of hierarchical privilege and power. Bribery, corruption, connections and favoritism permeated the entire fabric of Soviet socialist society. Since the state owned, produced and distributed anything and everything, everyone had to have “friends,” or friends who knew the right people, or who knew the right person to whom you could show just how appreciative you could be through bribery or reciprocal favors to gain access to something impossible to obtain through the normal channels of the central planning distributive network for “the masses.”

And overlaid on this entire socialist system of power, privilege and Communist Party-led plunder was the Soviet secret police, the KGB, spying, surveilling and threatening anyone and everyone who challenged or questioned the propaganda or workings of the “workers’ paradise.”

Communist Contradictions and the End to Soviet Socialism

It is not an exaggeration to say that everything that the Marxists said was the nature of the capitalist system – exploitation of the many by a privileged few; a gross inequality of wealth and opportunity simply due to an artificial arrangement of control over the means of production; a manipulation of reality to make slavery seem as if it meant freedom – was, in fact, the nature and essence, of Soviet socialism. What a warped and perverted twisting of reality through an ideologically distorted looking glass!

It all finally came to an end in 1991 when the privilege, plunder and poverty of “real socialism” made the Soviet system unsustainable. Indeed, by that time it was hard to find anyone in any corner of Soviet society who believed, anymore, in the “false consciousness” of communist propaganda. The Soviet Union had reached the dead-end of ideological bankruptcy and social illegitimacy. The “super-structure” of Soviet power collapsed. (See my article, “The 25th Anniversary of the End of the Soviet Union.”)

In 1899, the French social psychologist, Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931), looked at the, then, growing socialist movement at the end of the nineteenth century and the soon to be beginning twentieth century, and sadly said in his book, The Psychology of Socialism:

One nation, at least, will have to suffer . . . for the instruction of the world. It will be one of those practical lessons which alone can enlighten the nations who are amused with the dreams of happiness displayed before their eyes by the priests of the new [socialist] faith.

Not only Russia, but also many other countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America have been forced to provide that “practical lesson” in the political tyranny and economic disaster that socialist society, especially in its Marxist permutation, offered to mankind.

It stands as a stark demonstration of the disastrous consequences when a society fully abandons a political philosophy classical liberal individualism, an economic system of free market, competitive capitalism, and an acceptance of self-interested human nature functioning within a social arrangement of voluntary association and peaceful exchange.

Let us hope that with this year marking the one hundredth anniversary of the communist revolution in Russia mankind will learn from that tragic mistake, and come to realize and accept that only individual liberty and economic freedom can provide the just, good, and prosperous society that humanity can and should have.

(The text is based on a presentation delivered as the John W. Pope Lecture sponsored by the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism at Clemson University on March 1, 2017.)

[Originally Published at the Future for Freedom Foundation]

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Obama’s Assaults On Trump – Are Assaults On Our Governmental System And Nation

By Seton Motley

There was once a long and fabulous tradition in American politics.  A president, once no longer President, kept his trap shut about his successors.  This is a very (small “r”) republican thing to do.  Americans peaceably elected the next person – and Americans and the world need only hear from one president at a time.

(That we for the rest of their lives refer to ex-officials by their official titles is inordinately non-small-r-republican – but that is a discussion for another time.)

Cracks in the dam of Presidents not speaking ill of their successors began with Democrat Jimmy Carter.  And the new tradition that has developed – is Democrat ex-presidents speaking ill of Republicans who follow.

Once out of office, Republican Ronald Reagan night totally held his tongue.  So too, for the most part, have both George Bushes.  Democrats – not so much.  Democrat Bill Clinton had a built-in excuse to denigrate – his wife continued in government work after he left it.  And now there is Democrat Barack Obama.

Obama’s successor – Republican Donald Trump – was sworn in on January 20th.  Candidate Trump became President Trump – in large part because the American people had tired of Obama’s way-too-much-government approach to things.

Obama managed to hold his tongue about Trump – for all of nine days.  And it’s not what he’s saying – it’s what he’s doing – that is a whole new level of anti-republicanism.

Obama has built an apparatus and an army – to attack the Trump Administration: “If you think you’re going crazy from nonstop news coverage of unruly behavior and disruptive protests across the country since Donald Trump was elected president, rest assured there are veiled reasons for the current madness. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Goodwin asserts the ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome,’ is no temporarily insane reaction, but rather ‘a calculated plan to wreck the presidency, whatever the cost to the country.’…The primary vehicle of this campaign is Organizing for Action (OFA), legally founded in January 2013 by First Lady Michelle Obama and her husband’s 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina, with input from David Axelrod.”

These are sore losers – light years beyond the scope of any sore losers who’ve lost before them.  These are people willing if not eager to burn America to the ground – in order to “save” it from a restoration of its Constitutional, small “r” republican originalism.

A restoration – on which Trump incessantly campaigned.  Against which Obama and his anointed, putative successor Hillary Clinton – incessantly campaigned.  And We the People picked A – and not B.  And B steadfastly refuses to take our “No” for an answer.

The OFA hordes aside, is Obama the only un-elected administration official engaged in undoing the election?  Of course not – don’t be ridiculous.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Blasts His Replacement, Supports Net Neutrality: “It’s only been a month since Tom Wheeler stepped down from his post as chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC)….Wheeler was instrumental in advancing the cause of net neutrality….In 2015, (Wheeler’s) FCC reclassified broadband providers as ‘Title II’ common carriers…’We put out a report…on a violation of [net neutrality] rules,’ Wheeler said. ‘Then [current FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai came in, and immediately repudiated that [and] took it down.’”

For your additional edification: Title II regulations – date back to 1887 railroad monopoly regulations.  To apply them to the ultra-dynamic 21st Century Internet – is profoundly stupid, way-too-much-government policy.  (And to do so without Congress – is nigh certainly illegal.)  The Obama-Wheeler FCC imposed railroad regs on the Internet – to “grant” themselves “permission” to then impose Net Neutrality – which is also profoundly stupid, way-too-much-government policy.  (And, really, to do so without Congress – is also nigh certainly illegal.)

So when you see “protests” against a rollback of Obama way-too-much-government policy – remember that it is almost certainly members of the OFA Sore Loser Clown Show.  Who are purporting to represent We the People – but are in actuality standing in steadfast opposition to us.

Trump ran for the office – repudiating way-too-much-government policy all along the way.  And he won – We the People chose him over the Clinton way-too-much-government status quo.

And Trump has begun implementing the less government vision.  So too is Pai – Trump’s choice to Chair the FCC.  As is their right – in fact, their electoral imperative – as We the People’s duly elected presidential administration.

Obama and Wheeler don’t have to like it.  They used to have to lump it.  No more.  That small-r-republican tradition has been sadly, sorely diminished.

And Obama is now proactively working to obliterate it.  Which is truly terrible for the nation he oh-so-recently led.

[Originally Published at RedState]

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Lessons from a Comparison of the Tea Party Rallies and Recent Leftist Rallies

By Rob Natelson

There is an adage—restated many times and by many authors—that you can tell more about a person’s character by how he treats his social “inferiors” than by how he treats those equal to or above him. A middle-manager who abuses the office janitor shows a character defect. The adage holds this abuse reveals more about the manager’s character than if the manager is “nice” to other managers and to his or her supervisors.

A direct political analogue is how groups conduct themselves in rallies and public demonstrations. Do they act peacefully and clean up after themselves, or do they riot and leave a mess for public-sanitation workers? Although there may be many individual differences within any group, the adage suggests far better character, on average, among the former cohort.

A few years ago, Tea Party groups protested widely against the federal government’s overspending and overregulation. These protests could be vigorous and overwrought, but almost invariably the participants acted peacefully and cleaned up after themselves. I asked Mark Meckler, one of the movement’s most prominent leaders, what he and other organizers did to ensure individuals did not leave a mess for others to deal with. Here is what he reported:

“The Tea Party movement was largely self-policing, which was the most amazing part,” said Meckler. “I’m sure that good, neighborly behavior was encouraged, but the reality is that this is just how folks on the right generally behave. We believe in the rule of law. We believe in the right to “peaceably” assemble. We believe in private property rights. And we believe in the Golden Rule. Were we ‘angry?’ Sure, we were—and frankly, we still are. But we were civil, non-destructive, and certainly never criminal. These are hallmarks of conservative protests and are the exact opposite of what one sees on the left.”

Meckler is certainly correct about “what one sees on the left.” The mess created by “progressive” rallies and demonstrations has become legendary. The “Occupy” movement left tons of litter for hapless sanitation workers to clean up after their 2011 protests. More recently, the  did the same. The Black Lives Matter movement has been even worse, adding riots and looting to their mounds of trash.

It is fair to conclude the behavioral contrast tells us something about the character of the participants in these movements, but does the contrast also reflect on their arguments? Strictly speaking, to reject an argument because of the identity of the arguer is the classic ad hominem fallacy. The identity of the person making a claim does not, by itself, prove or disprove the correctness of the claim.

Yet everyone recognizes that the identity of the arguer can be one legitimate consideration for judging an argument. We recognize this officially in our campaign disclosure laws; a principal justification for those laws is the identity, interest, and character of those funding a campaign reflect on the campaign’s merits. The identity, interests, and character of a candidate’s supporters tell us something about the candidate.

You can carry this too far, of course, but all things being equal, would you rather have a person in a position of power who appeals to decent, conscientious people—or one who panders to rioters and metaphorical pigs?

Thus, the stark difference between the conduct of conservative and left-wing protests reflects on the merits of what they say. That difference is also a reason the facile equivalencies some draw between the Tea Party movement and protests on the left are highly offensive.

It is common to say, “Good people can differ.” This is absolutely true, but it does not follow that because they differ they are all good.

[Originally Published at the Daily Caller]

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When It Comes to Civics Education, the Left Wants to Keep Children in the Dark

By Teresa Mull

America just finished celebrating Presidents Day, but in this instance, “celebrating” means something entirely different than it usually does. Few people—other than the “Not My President Day” crowd—did anything more to acknowledge our past and present commanders-in-chief than get out of town for the long weekend and sleep in a little later than usual on Monday morning.

Some suggest we don’t celebrate the achievements and contributions of our forefathers with fireworks and parades in part because Presidents Day takes place during the dreariest time of year, but I think it has more to do with the fact Americans, especially children, are ignorant of the great hardships our predecessors endured, as well as the triumphs they earned to win us the freedoms we now exercise and often take for granted.

The more I learn about our public education system, the more I suspect it is intentionally designed to keep kids ignorant of our history, rights, and freedoms. The Education Commission of the States and the National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement recently issued an updated review of the status of civic education in the United States. The report found states are requiring students to study civics but most are not making the mastery of civics education a priority. And judging from student outcomes, schools that are teaching civics aren’t doing it very well.

“Even though all 50 states and the District of Columbia technically require some civic education, advocates say many districts don’t take those policies very seriously, and few states actually hold schools accountable for students’ civics’ outcomes,” The Atlantic reported in 2015.  “Just about a fourth of high school seniors in 2014 scored ‘proficient’ on the federal-government’s civics exam.  Proficiency levels were equally lousy for eighth-graders.”

Similarly, in 2009, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) released results from its “sixty-question multiple-choice exam on knowledge of American history, government, foreign affairs, and market economics.” ISI administered the survey “to over 14,000 college freshmen and seniors nationwide.” In ISI’s results for both 2006 and 2007, “The average freshman and average senior failed the exam.”

In 2008, ISI expanded the study to examine a “random, representative sample of 2,508 American adults.” ISI reported, “Respondents were asked thirty-three questions (click here to see the questions and take the quiz yourself), many drawn from U.S. naturalization exams and U.S. Department of Education high school progress tests (NAEP). Seventy-one percent of Americans failed this basic test. The overall average score was only 49 percent, with college graduates also failing at 57 percent.”

Are U.S. citizens’ dismal performances on civics-education exams a coincidence, or is the neglect of such education a deliberate maneuver by leftists who control our public education system?

“Self-government”—the foundation of everything taught in American civics—is opposed to modern liberal ideology, which seeks to tell everyone how to think and act so that the “collective” will supposedly end up better off. Knowing how our government works or should work according to our Constitution can’t possibly help the left succeed in accomplishing its mission to make as many people as possible dependent on an all-powerful government. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that our public school systems, which are overrun with people who have accepted leftism, are disinterested in teaching children about their “inalienable” rights, checks and balances in government, and the clearly defined (and limited) enumerated powers in present in the Constitution.

Such a theory would also explain why civics education has been swept under the rug in favor of flashy trends such as “STEM” education and “career readiness training.”

Margaret E. Fisher, distinguished practitioner in residence at the Seattle University School of Law, is leading the Council on Public Legal Education’s Civic Learning Initiative “to bolster civic learning for Washington State students.” Fisher told me in an interview many educators she’s talked to say they simply don’t have time to teach civics, because the pressures imposed by higher authorities to prepare students for onerous standardized tests are overwhelming.

Patrick J. Deneen, who teaches political theory at the University of Notre Dame, asserts his students are “know-nothings,” and he sums up his theory why in an outstanding Free Porch Republic article: “Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings.

“We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders,” Deneen wrote. “What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, historyless free agents, and educational goals composed of contentless processes and unexamined buzz-words like ‘critical thinking,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘ways of knowing,’ ‘social justice,’ and ‘cultural competence.’”

Civics education has not simply fallen by the wayside; there is an ongoing, concerted effort to keep the masses ignorant of the rights and freedoms that are so dangerous to those who are working daily to grow an already massive government. How else can we explain the seemingly inexplicable decision made by the education establishment to refuse to teach our children the fundamental aspects and inner workings of our free society?

[Originally Published at Townhall]

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Let’s Stop Flattering Ourselves: It’s Not 1984

If you don’t yet subscribe to the Daily Jolt by National Review’s Jim Geraghty, you need to do that. It gives you great information on the “conventional wisdom” of DC from a guy who does not subscribe to all that stuff. Subscribe here.

Geraghty’s morning email pulls out a few stories buzzing at the moment, and provides priceless insight into them. I’m a long-time subscriber, and what I really love about Jim’s email newsletter is how he has his eye on things you might not have seen.

He did so Friday when he commented on the decision by 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick’s decision to no longer kneel down to make a leftist political statement. I’m sure it’s a conincidence he’s going to be a free agent in a week – meaning he’ll be looking for a job in the NFL from a general manager not keen to bring all his SJW baggage with him.

Jim excerpted a commentary on this by sports columnist Jason Whitlock, who happens to also be black, and has never been too keen about the ugly collision of leftist politics and sports.

“This hyper-progressive movement that has lurched into sports and changed the conversation about sports and in sports TV. … So much of the conversation is inconsistent with the values of sports culture. I’m gonna say it until I’m blue in the face: Sports culture is conservative and religious! And we’ve turned ‘conservative’ into a curse word in this country and it’s just not.

“We’re turning off our base, our base of support. The people that coach Pee Wee football, the people that participate in Pee Wee football all the way through, we’re making them uncomfortable by inviting in all these people that really don’t care about sports, don’t love sports — they have a political agenda — and they’re leading the conversation about sports? It’s turning people off.”

In that very same Daily Jolt, Geraghty throws a lot of cold water upon the idea that the dawn of the Trump presidency has ushered in an Orwellian dystopia.

Orwell’s 1984 is a brilliant, unforgettable warning about the dangers of an all-powerful state, cults of personality, mankind’s capacity for cognitive dissonance, and the willingness to believe what is obviously false in order to preserve a fatally flawed worldview. But the book’s memorable phrases and concepts are also now so chronically overused as a criticism of political leaders that they’re clichéd and, I suspect, easy to tune out if you don’t already agree that Leader X is a power-mad, ruthlessly manipulative tyrant-in-waiting.

The America of 2017 is the same as America has always been: a mix of good and bad, noble and selfish, exercised liberties and runaway politicians and bureaucrats. Of course we have problems, but overheated comparisons to dystopian novels obscure more than they illuminate and conveniently forget that we’ve seen much worse.

Maybe Fox News strikes you as a modern day Ministry of Truth, airbrushing away any criticism of the regime. But it’s worth remembering that there was a time when such criticism was criminalized in America by Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act.

If you believe Trump’s private security guards have the potential to become a force of unaccountable loyalist thugs, I’d like to introduce you to Mayor Richard Daley and the Chicago Police Department of 1968.

Perhaps you feel the new administration’s discussion of Muslims and terrorism is scaremongering, and like Representative Keith Ellison, you argue against it by quoting Franklin Roosevelt’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Of course, Roosevelt later rounded up Japanese Americans and put them into internment camps.

It’s not hard to find people who insist Trump is authoritarian because of the things he says. But authoritarians are not defined by the things they say; they’re defined by the things they do. The judicial branch already struck down Trump’s executive order on refugees. Despite Trump’s hyperbolic denunciations of the media, America’s press remains as free and vibrant as ever. The first weeks of the new presidency have not been marked by a meek and obedient Congress but by one that can’t unify behind a single legislative agenda.

There’s more. Read it here.

And subscribe to Jim Geraghty’s great daily email.

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We Must Save the Environment – From the Environmentalists

climate justice makes you blue

By Seton Motley

The joke is so old and repetitive – because the joke that is environmentalism and environmentalists is so old and repetitive.  Time and again, nigh every time environmentalists gather to gripe about some fairy tale or other – or to simply listen to tunes, turn on, tune in and drop out – they have left behind an environmental disaster. 

 Remember Woodstock?  The 1969 Peace, Love and Narcotics concert in New York state?  These “Love Your Mother EarthGaia worshippers – left the concert field looking like a nuclear trash bomb had been dropped.  Ironic – given the Hippies’ “No Nukes” movement.

 Flash forward forty years.  Remember Occupy Wall Street?  That was the second iteration of the Left’s series of failed attempts to replicate the germane grassroots magic of the Tea Party (remember the Coffee Party?).  Occupy’s chief complaint was against corporations (about which they vigorously complained on Twitter, Inc. and Facebook, Inc. – via their Apple, Inc. iPhones and Samsung, Inc. Galaxies).  Of course a component of their anti-corporation sentiment – was that corporations are destroying the planet.  They’re evil, they’re giant – and they mass-pollute.   

 You know who definitely destroyed their little corners of the planet?  Occupy Wall Street.  “They…were…the 99%” – of the massive mess makers in their anti-corporate equation.  They defecated and urinated on police cars.  Because – classy.  They lived in filth – and left it behind when they vamoosed.  Leaving the corporations and straight-job-having-taxpayers they loathe to pick up the tab for their noxious tantrums.  

 Has the Left finally learned its lesson?  Have the planet’s alleged physicians finally healed themselves?  Of course not.  The joke then – is still the joke now.  Behold the Dakota Access Pipeline protest. 

 The environmental-disaster environmentalists gathered along the North Dakota-South Dakota border to protest a certain section of the aforementioned pipeline.  And that gathering – was a donation-cash-cow. 

 GoFundMe and FundRazr pages were established – and the coin rolled.  Official Sacred Stone Camp – $3,125,550.  Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund – $2,982,763.  Veterans for Standing Rock – $1,155,770.  Water Protector Legal Collective –$627,374.  #BuildWithStandingRock Community – $537,555.  Last Real Indians #NoDAPL Aid – $378,402.  And on, and on, and….

 In toto, nearly $14 million was raised in the name of stopping the pipeline (which they ultimately failed to do – as President Donald Trump signed off on its completion).   “Leftist Volunteer Protester” is, as always, a highly lucrative gig.  (Except when the Leftist paymasters stiff you.) 

 Now it is understandable that rank-and-file Leftist protest gadflies aren’t used to earning money – and are thus unfamiliar with the concept of income taxes. So North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger issued a gentle reminder: “‘[We’re] looking at the entities that have potential paid contractors here on their behalf doing work.’…Mr. Rauschenberger said red flags will be raised if he doesn’t start seeing W2 or 1099 tax forms from those affiliated with the protest arriving at his office.”

 $14 million for volunteer protesters – is a lot of coin.  But it is way less than the $33 million taxpayers have already had to pay – to deal with the highly-compensated volunteer protesters.  And along with the wasted money, thousands and thousands of civil servant man hours have been wasted babysitting them.  If you live anywhere near this Leftist pipeline cabal and had to, while being robbed or assaulted, wait a whole lot longer for the cops to show – it is because they were diverted to dealing with this Leftist pipeline cabal. 

And taxpayers aren’t yet finished paying for this Leftist mess.  Because the Leftists – left yet another mess.

 $6 million of the $14 million raised – went directly to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.  The Indians protesting the pipeline.  The coin was donated to allegedly address three things: legal fees for their lawsuits against the Army Corps of Engineers, waste management at the protest site – and to offset Indian casino gambling revenue losses incurred because of the protest they were leading. 

 Get that last bit?  They led a protest they knew would cost them money – and they had the audacity to ask people to compensate them for their self-inflicted wounds.  The other two reasons for the titanic coin – make even less sense. 

 Legal fees?  EarthJustice – the environmentalist lawyer group representing the Tribe – doesn’t charge its clients.  (And EarthJustice is undoubtedly raising money its own self on their ridiculous pipeline litigiousness.)

 Waste management?  The protesters appear to know less about this – than they do about income tax: “Sanitation crews are working hard to dispose of six months’ worth of garbage from a community the size of Wahpeton or Valley City. The mountains of debris need to be moved before the spring thaw occurs….’Standing Rock Environmental Protection Agency and Dakota Sanitation are working together to try and advert an environmental tragedy,’ says Tom Doering, Morton County Emergency Manager.  It’s estimated it will take 250 trucks filled with litter to clear the camp….Each load that’s dumped is inspected by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department.”

 Get that?  All of that cleanup work – is being done taxpayer-funded government entities.  Not by anyone paid by the Tribe. And it doesn’t end there: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has moved into the evacuated Dakota Access pipeline protest camp to finish the cleanup….”

 Get that?  The (again, taxpayer-funded) Army Corps of Engineers is being sued by the Tribe – and has to pay to clean up after the Tribe.  While the Tribe sits on the millions it raised – putatively to pay for clean up.     

 Again, the anti-environment environmentalists joke – is a very old one.  It wasn’t funny then – it isn’t funny now. 

 But it does make it nigh impossible to take environmentalism and environmentalists seriously.

[Originally Published at Red State

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New Civics: A Red-Hot Crucible for Radicalizing Academe

By Robert Holland

Over the past 15 years, numerous scholarly organizations have lamented the severe decline of civic education in U.S. colleges and secondary schools. Their reports cite reams of depressing evidence of students’ appalling ignorance of our heritage and system of government.

One example suggests a precipitous generational decline in civic knowledge: In an American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) study, less than one-third of college graduates ages 25–34 knew how to amend the Constitution, while 76.7 percent of college graduates over 65 grasped that basic information.

These studies criticize leaders of academe for letting the study of civics and American history lapse from required courses to elective to now virtually non-existent. However, these analyses have failed to pick up on something darker at work within higher education: the repurposing of civics to advance a radical progressive agenda camouflaged as civic engagement or service learning.

An otherwise strong report in January 2016 from ACTA hinted at the problem in noting some colleges would want to supplement required civics with “engaged citizenship programs.”

“Such outreach programs should be encouraged – but they must supplement requirements for coursework in U.S. government and history,” ACTA stated. “They cannot replace the academic study and understanding of the institutions of American government.”

Ah, but that is the rub: As a January 2017 analysis by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) documents in more than 500 pages of detail, the goal of academe’s architects of New Civics is to replace the study of the basics of representative government with political activism on behalf of left-wing causes. They have won over many colleges that now award degree credits for learning how to organize protests, which are frequently used to shut down conservative or libertarian speakers.

The study, authored by David Randall, NAS director of communications, found the New Civics agenda for societal transformation includes “de-carbonizing the economy, massively redistributing wealth, intensifying identity-group grievance, curtailing the free market, expanding government bureaucracy, elevating international ‘norms’ over American Constitutional law, and disparaging our common history and ideals.”

But surely, in great universities dedicated to a free exchange of ideas, fair-minded faculty and administrators would let students earn their “learning by doing” credits by working within the constitutional framework bequeathed to us by the Founders, right?

Unfortunately, Randall says that is not the case. He alleges, “so far as we can tell, not one of the millions of hours spent by students each year on community service, service-learning, and civic engagement has included service for organizations that forward (for example) Second Amendment rights, pro-life advocacy, or traditional marriage.”

The trend toward New Civics began in the 1970s when universities allowed increasingly larger chunks of service learning—social activism in the community—to take the place of genuine academic study of U.S. history and civic knowledge. But the movement really took off in 2012 with President Barack Obama’s endorsement of “A Crucible Moment,” a manifesto by the Association of American Colleges and Universities calling for the tenets of New Civics to be suffused throughout the entire curriculum. “Crucible” was a perfect match with Obama’s stated goal of creating a “radical transformation” of the United States. Funding came from the U.S. Department of Education and the epistle debuted at the White House to great fanfare.

Among the case studies in NAS’ analysis, the University of Colorado-Boulder exemplifies an institution where radicalized civics is now dominant. NAS counted at least 60 courses with New Civics components and only 11 with vestiges of traditional civics. Even more startling are some of the permanent bureaucracies at CU-Boulder that propagate radicalized civics. A prime example is the International and National Voluntary Service Training (INVST) program, which Randall describes as “the equivalent of a major in progressive activism.” According to its mission statement, INVST proudly engages in “anti-oppressive education” while assailing “the privileged.”

Americans who pay taxes and tuition and donate money as alumni or friends of higher education have a right to oppose citadels of learning being turned into bastions of radical indoctrination. NAS joins other scholarly organizations in urging public colleges to restore traditional civics as a graduation requirement, but it goes further in calling for a public oversight body to ensure that such a course truly teaches U.S. history and the tools of self-government.

Additionally, classroom instruction alone would suffice to meet the civics requirement. So-called “service learning” and the like could not be a “substitute, supplement, or alternative.” Indeed, the NAS report calls for an end to funding of service learning and civic engagement programs and bureaucracies.

Protests that such measures would violate “academic freedom” will ring hollow if emanating from those who seek to deny the blessings of liberty except to those who march in lockstep for their progressive causes.

[Originally Published at RealClearEducation]

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Karl Marx’s Misconceptions About Man and Market

By Richard Ebeling

Though it may seem strange, Karl Marx was not always a communist. As late as 1842, when Marx was in his mid-20s, he actually said he opposed any attempt to establish a communist system. In October 1842, he became editor of the Rheinische Zeitung [the Rhineland Times], and wrote in an editorial:

The Rheinische Zeitung . . . does not admit that communist ideas in their present form possess even theoretical reality, and therefore can still less desire their practical realization, or even consider it possible.

In 1843, Marx was forced to resign his editorship because of political pressure from the Prussian government, and ended up moving to Paris.  It was in Paris that he met his future lifelong collaborator, Friedrich Engels (who already was a socialist), and began his deeper study of socialism and communism, leading to his full “conversion” to the collectivist ideal.

Feuerbach and the Worship of Man Perfected

From his student days in Berlin, two German philosophers left their imprint upon Marx:  George Hegel (1770-1831) and Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). From Hegel, Marx learned the theory of “dialectics” and the idea of historical progress to universal improvement. From Feuerbach, Marx accepted the idea of man “perfected.” Feuerbach had argued that rather than worshiping a non-existing supernatural being – God – man should worship himself.

The “true” religion of the future should, therefore, be the Worship of Mankind, and that man “perfected” would be changed from a being focused on and guided by his own self-interest to one who was totally altruistic, that is, concerned only with the betterment of and service to Mankind, as a whole, rather than only himself.

Marx took Feuerbach’s notion of man “perfected,” and developed what he considered to be the essential characteristics of such a developed human nature. There were three elements to such a perfected human being, Marx argued:

First, the Potential for “Autonomous Action.” This is action undertaken by a man only out of desire or enjoyment, not out of necessity. If a man works at a blacksmith’s forge out of a desire to creatively exercise his faculties in molding metal into some artistic form, this is free or “autonomous action.” If a man works at the forge because unless he makes a plow to plant a crop he will starve, he is acting under a “compulsion” or a “constraint.”

Second, the Potential for “Societal Orientation.” Only man, Marx argued, can reflect on and direct his conscious actions to improving the “community” of which he is a part, and which nourishes his own capacity for personal development. When man associates with others only out of self-interest, he denies his true “social” self. Thus, egoism is “unworthy” of a developed human being.

And, third, the Potential for “Aesthetic Appreciation.” This is when man values things only for themselves; for example, “nature for nature’s sake,” or “art for art’s sake.” To view things, Marx claimed, only from the perspective of how something might be used to improve an individual’s personal circumstance is a debasement of the “truly” aesthetic value in things.

Capitalism Keeps Man from Perfection

Feuerbach believed man was “alienated” from himself when he was not “other-oriented.” To change from self-interest to altruism was mostly a state of mind that man could change within himself, Feuerbach argued.  Marx insisted that the problem of “alienation” was not due to a person’s “state of mind,” but was conditioned by the “objective” institutional circumstances under which men lived.

That is, the political, social, and economic institutions made man what he is. Change the social order, and man would be changed. “Capitalism,” Marx declared, was the source of man’s alienation from his “true” self and his human potential. How did this “alienation” manifest itself?

First, there is the Stifling of Autonomous Action. In the marketplace, forces “outside” the control of the individual determine what is produced and how it is produced. The individual “reacts” to the market, he does not control it. Thus, market forces are external constraints on man. He responds to the market out of “necessity,” not out of free desire.

Furthermore, to enhance production and productivity, man is “forced” to participate in a division of labor to earn a living that makes him an “appendage” to a machine, a “slave” to the machines owned by the “capitalists” for whom he is “compelled” to work.

Second, there is Diminished Other-Orientedness. In the market, the individual sees others only as means to his material ends; he trades with others to get from others that which he wants in pursuit of his own self-interest. Work is not considered a communal “cooperative” process, but an antagonistic relationship between what the individual wants and what is wanted by the one with whom he trades.

Third, there is Limited Aesthetic Appreciation. In the market, people look upon nature, resources, and the creations of man not as things in themselves to be intrinsically valued, but as marketable objects – as means – to personal ends.  Acquisition of things – possessiveness – becomes the primary goal of economic activity for making a living.

Communism’s Liberation of Constrained Man

Communism, through collective planning, would make work an “autonomous” act, rather than “constrained action.” When democratically regulated by the workers as a whole, Marx asserted, collective planning would emerge from the desires of all the members of society as their communal choice and consent. It would be consciously planned and directed through the participation of all the members of society, thus generating an “other-oriented” sense of a “common good” for which all worked.

No one would any longer be forced and constrained to do what another made them do in the division of labor. Indeed, communism would free men from the “tyranny” of specialization.  In Marx’s words, from The German Ideology (1845):

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow; to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind.

In this new communist world, no one will have to work at anything he did not like or did not want to do.  In addition, under communal planning, production would rise to such a height of productivity, that the work day would be shortened to the point that each person’s time would be free to do only the things he enjoyed doing.

Communism would also enhance social consciousness and other-orientedness. All that was communally produced would be distributed on the basis of “need” or “want.” No longer would scarcity impose constraints on man’s desires. As a result, the urge for “possessiveness” and acquisition of “things” would diminish and finally disappear.  Selfishness would be eliminated as a human trait.

Others would no longer be viewed as “competitors” for scarce things, but as social collaborators for attaining “higher” ends of social importance. Altruism would become the dominant trait in man.

In addition, communism would result in the flowering of aesthetic appreciation.

Man would not create so he could earn a living, but for the pleasure of the doing, itself.  Work would not be a source of “alienation,” but an activity reflecting the free – the “autonomous” – desires of man for the “beautiful.”

Communism would liberate man in all ways and all things, said Marx:

With a communist organization of society, there disappears the subordination . . . of the individual to some definite art, making him exclusively a painter, a sculptor, etc. . . . In a communist society, there are no longer painters, but only people who engage in painting among other activities.

With the end to capitalism and the arrival of communism, there would come a heaven on earth. There would be enough of everything for all.  Man would be freed from working for survival; he would be unchained from the division of labor; he would be liberated to follow whatever gave his heart pleasure. With Communism, man becomes like God – free and powerful to do whatever he wants.

Marx’s Denial of Self-Oriented Human Nature

Let me suggest that what Marx was objecting to – revolting against – was human nature and the existence of scarcity. Man can never escape from or get outside of being an individual “ego.” We exist as individual human beings; we think, remember, imagine, choose and act as distinct and unique individual men and women.

Our experiences are our experiences; our thoughts and beliefs are our reflections and ideas; our judgments and valuations are our estimates and rankings of things of importance to us. Even when we try to put ourselves in another person’s shoes, to try to sympathize, empathize, and understand the meanings, experiences and actions of others, it is from our perspective and state-of-mind that we attempt any interpretive understanding and appreciation of others.

It is the individuality of the person in these and other facets of our distinct nature and character as conscious, conceptualizing creatures that make for the unique differences and diversities of our minds as self-oriented human beings. This is the source of the creativity and plethora of possibilities that can and have emerged from seeing the world in the distinct and different ways that self-oriented and self-experiencing people can and do when pursuing their own improvement, as they consider most advantageous for themselves and others they “selfishly” care about in an institutional setting of peaceful and voluntary market association.

Marx’s Denial of the Reality of Scarcity

Marx also objects to the reality of the necessity to have to produce in order to consume, to have to view one’s own labor as a means to various ends – rather than all that we want being provided somehow, and our labor being “free” to be used as a pleasurable end in itself.

Likewise, he revolts against men viewing each other as means to their respective ends that they desire to achieve – rather than human relationships being a “club” in which all get together and freely associate for “good times,” with no concern for how or who provides the things without which good times cannot occur.

Nor can he abide men looking upon nature and man-made objects as the means or tools to producing the necessities, amenities, and luxuries of life – with the assignment of a “money value” to a house, or a work of art, or a waterfall, or a sculpture being “dehumanizing” for Marx.

However, the only reason such things are given values by people in society is because they are wanted but also scarce, and because the means to achieve them are scarce as well; as a consequence, we must decide what we consider to be more or less valuable and important to us, since all that we would like to have cannot be simultaneously fulfilled at the same time.

Marx’s hatred for the division of labor is an outgrowth of this worldview. Man is seen as somehow less than whole by specializing in a task and selling both his labor and his fraction of the total output of some commodity to further the achievement of ends and goals that he considers more important than what he has to give up to get them.

Marx’s Misconception of Action and Choice

The entire Marxian conception of man, society, and happiness can be conceived, therefore, as a flight from reality. It can be seen in Marx’s distinction between “autonomous action” and capitalist “choices.”

“Action” is, in fact, nothing more than choice manifested: We undertake courses of action only after we have decided what it is we wish to do; that is, which among the alternatives available to us shall we try to bring about, and which shall be set aside for a day or forever because not everything we desire can be had due to the constraints of nature and existence other human beings.

Marx talks of people fishing in the morning and hunting in the afternoon – does that not mean that the person’s time is scarce? Is he not “frustrated” that he cannot do both at the same time, or be in two places at once?

If every man is to be “autonomously free” to hunt and fish whenever and to whatever extent he desires, what happens when the various members of the community wish to kill the forest animals or catch the fish at such a rate that they are threatened with extinction? Or what if several people all want to fish from the same place along the river or lake bank at the same time, or from the same “cover” position while out hunting?

Marx might say that a “societal orientation” on the part of everyone would result in some form of “comradely” compromise. But is that not just other language for “mutual agreements,” and “trade-offs” and “exchanges” concerning the use and disposal over scarce resources – the disposition of the communal property rights among the members of society?

But there is no certainty that all of the members of such a society will always like the communally agreed outcomes, with some of them considering themselves “exploited” for the benefit of others who have out-voted them. And, therefore, they may be “alienated” from their fellow men and from nature even in the communist paradise to come.

Nor can there simply be the idea of art for art’s sake, or nature for nature’s sake.

Resources for art and gifts of nature (unless cultivated to expand them) are always limited. The use of forests for primitive contemplation versus industrial use versus residential housing would still have to be made in Marx’s magical communist society. And, certainly, not everyone in the bright, beautiful communist society may agree or like the decisions that a majority of others in the blissful societal commune make about such things.

The paint for the artist’s pallet is not in infinite supply, with some art having to be forgone so other art might be pursued; or with the ingredients going into the manufacture of paints being used for other things. To assume that men would never conflict over how to dispose of these things is to escape into a complete fantasyland.

Also, it is a physical and psychological fact that men differ in their relative capacities and inclinations in terms of various tasks needing to be performed. It is a physical and psychological fact that men tend to be more productive when they specialize in a small range of tasks as opposed to trying to be a “jack-of-all-trades.”

As a result, the division of labor raises both the productivity and the total production of a community of men; standards of living rise, leisure time can be expanded, and more variety and quality of goods can be produced.

Indeed, it has been free market capitalism that has provided humanity over the last two hundred years with that actual relative horn-of-plenty wherever a fairly free rein has existed for self-interested individual action in pursuit of profit in associative relationships of specialization based on peaceful use of private property.

Capitalism has been the great liberator of ever more of mankind from poverty, want, and worry. It has freed people from the hardship and drudgery of often life-threatening forms of work. The free market has shortened the hours of work needed to generate levels of material and cultural comfort for a growing number of humanity, and provided the longer, healthier lives and increased leisure time for people to enjoy the wealth that economic freedom has made possible.

The “de-alienation” of man from his everyday existence, in the sense that Marx talked about it, has also, in fact, been brought about through the achievements of capitalism. Relieving more and more of mankind from the concerns of mere survival and subsistence through the capital accumulation and profit-oriented production that has raised the productivity of all those who work and expanded the available supply of useful goods and services, the free market has enabled people to have the means to fulfill more of the enjoyments and meanings of life as ends in themselves.

Furthermore, as Austrian economist, F. A. Hayek, and others have pointed out, the advantage of the free market system is precisely that it does not require all of the members of the society to agree upon and share the same hierarchy of goals, ends and values. Each individual, under competitive capitalism, is at liberty to select and follow their own purposes and pursue happiness in their own way. Using each other as the voluntary means to their, respective, ends in the arena of peaceful market exchange allows a much larger diversity of outcomes reflecting the differences among people than if one central plan needs to imposed on all in the name of the interests of a collectivist community, as a whole.

Marx’s flight from reality, on the other hand, was the wish to have all that capitalism, division of labor, and competitive exchange can produce, but without the cost of work, discipline, specialization, and selecting among alternatives. It is like the cry of the child who refuses to accept the fact the he cannot have everything he wants, right there and then. And, instead, expects someone or something to provide it to him and everyone else, somehow, in a blissful fairyland of material plentitude.

[Originally Published at The Future for Freedom Foundation]

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History of Left-wing Fascism

By Clifford Thies

At the CPAC conference, there was a dust-up concerning certain persons claiming to be the “alt-right.” One of the organizers of the conference said the people claiming to be the alt-right were not conservatives, but were “left-wing fascists.” He also said they had appropriated the term alt-right. The term “alt-right” emerged to represent a form of journalism in some ways evocative of the late Hunter S. Thompson, with right-of-center views and relying on non-traditional platforms. But, the term has come to mean extreme right-wing. My focus is on the term “left-wing fascism.”

In real time, Benito Mussolini and his movement – fascism or national socialism – was of the left. Mussolini was a great admirer of Karl Marx and Marx’s principle of revolutionary socialism. By “revolutionary socialism,” I mean to distinguish Marxist socialism from the democratic socialists and labor unions that were emerging in Europe.

Mussolini, like Marx and Lenin, saw the party as the vanguard of the working class, a force from without the system that would usher in change. Mussolini was in fact a member of the socialist party of Italy, although he broke with the party on the issue of neutrality during World War I. It was later that Mussolini thought to combine socialism with nationalism, and form a new party. He called the combination “fascism.” A fasces is a bundle of rods, each individually weak while the bundle is strong. Mussolini’s counterpart in Germany called the combination “national socialism.” In Germany, where they like long words, this became “Nationalsozialistische.” In America, where we like short words, this became “Nazi.”

Adolph Hitler was in many ways like Mussolini. Hitler, like Mussolini, was a great admirer of Marx, and was originally a member of the socialist party. Hitler, like Mussolini, served in the army of his country during World War I, and both rose to the rank of corporal. Hitler, like Mussolini, said that the members of the working class were not easily drawn to revolutionary socialism, but were responsive to a combination of socialism and nationalism.

The new national socialist parties of Italy and Germany clashed with the communist parties of those countries. This was a clash of rivals both of which were revolutionary socialist and had the will to power. Then, when the traditional conservative, liberal and democratic socialist parties were in decline, the national socialists rose to power with the support of certain industrialists (we would say “crony capitalists”).

The main difference between Hitler’s form of national socialism and Mussolini’s concerned the meaning of “nationalism.” Hitler thought of nationalism along genetic lines, while Mussolini thought of nationalism along cultural lines. American progressives were, at the time, sympathetic to both points of view. Woodrow Wilson was definitely in the racist camp. Theodore Roosevelt in the cultural camp. Family planning, abortion and forced sterilization were part of the agenda, along with establishing labor colonies for the undesirable elements of society and using public schools to indoctrinate the next generation. In Oregon, the KKK was successful in outlawing private or religious schools until the Supreme Court ruled that to be unconstitutional.

Then came, with the end of World War II, knowledge of the horrors that the Nazis had unleashed upon the world. Certainly, American progressives did not want to be associated with that. So, there was a whitewash of history.

The connections of American progressives with the KKK, forced sterilization, experimentation on prisoners, advocacy of labor colonies, internment of Americans of Japanese descent, and admiration of fascism had to disappear from history. Even more, fascism and racism were redefined as right-wing, instead of left-wing.

[First published at Freedom Pub.]

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The Left’s Failing, False Narrative On School Choice

By Teresa Mull

Last month, more than six million people across the nation rallied, danced, and wore colorful scarves at 21,000 events celebrating National School Choice Week.

President Donald Trump himself made a proclamation in recognition of the event, declaring, “Because the education of our young people is so important, the parents of every student in America should have a right to a meaningful choice about where their child goes to school.”

Meanwhile, teachers unions and their liberal allies had been voicing their opposition to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. In a letter sent to U.S. senators before her confirmation, some 300 state lawmakers, most of them Democrats, “argue that DeVos, who has no professional experience in education, is unqualified for the job and that the charter schools and voucher programs she has worked to create and expand have undermined public schools, which they see as critical civic institutions that serve the majority of students,” The Washington Post reported.

The Post’s choice to include the phrase “they see” in explaining the circumstance is telling. Judging from the record-breaking turnout during National School Choice Week and by the list of school choice legislation expanding at the state level each day, “they”—meaning the left-wing education establishment—are the only ones who do see government schools as “critical” and “[serving] the majority of students.”

At least that’s what they claim. Can the left possibly believe its own rhetoric at this point? Do liberals think government schools really are “critical”? Was no one educated before the Department of Education came along and told us what to do in schools? And do public schools actually serve the majority of students, or just the majority of union bosses, union members, and corrupt politicians, who together feed off the bloated education system like so many leeches?

Liberals know deep down their cherished government schools are no more “critical” than the U.S. Postal Service or so many other government agencies that, granted nearly unlimited budgets and sloppy oversight, slog along as inefficiently as they please, wasting the valuable time and money of the over-burdened taxpayer.

That’s why the left manufactures these elaborate narratives, painting anyone who dares to challenge the power of the teachers unions as a ruthless monster set on depriving old people of their hard-earned retirement money. It’s also why Betsy DeVos is depicted as a villain intent on making innocent children suffer.

It’s why they discount thousands of success stories of families who have benefited by school choice, like Sahara Aden, the daughter of poor immigrants who, thanks to a school choice program, was able to attend a private school her family couldn’t otherwise afford and is now studying electrical engineering at college. The left doesn’t care about thousands of people like Denisha Merriweather, who became the first person in her family to attend college, thanks to a tax-credit scholarship she credits with saving her from becoming a high-school dropout.

The left consistently disregards facts about how school choice helps desegregate communities, better satisfies parents and students, and saves taxpayers money. They purposefully ignore the pleas of millions of parents, students, teachers, lawmakers, and taxpayers who want something different, people who want some kind of say in how and where our country’s children are educated, because they know when they give everyone else a say, it’ll be something they don’t want to hear.

National School Choice Week proved there has been a dramatic shift in the mindset of the American people. We’re not buying what the left is selling on education. We are no longer content to sit back and let public schools mis-educate our children and send them off to college or the workforce ill-prepared, or to watch as the United States falls further and further behind other industrialized nations in academic achievement.

The discriminatory practice of forcing children to attend schools based on their address is coming to an end, and those who benefit most by public schools (hint: it’s not the kids!) are very, very afraid. That’s a good sign for the rest of us, who are ready to cut the cord and educate ourselves in a faster, better way: without the government training wheels.

[Originally Published at Red State]

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