Friday, March 31, 2017

On Bears Versus Humans

New Jersey has had a growing bear problem in recent decades, as black bears invade towns and neighborhoods across the state, but especially in the Northern and Western parts of the state. The bears are not just a nuisance. They threaten property and lives, including children and pets. In response, NJ now has an annual bear hunt, to contain and control the bear population.

But not everyone is happy about the state’s efforts to control the bears. Some value bears over people.

The NJ Star-Ledger addressed this issue in a December 2015 editorial, which ran just after the bear hunt ended. In It's either the bears, or the Boy Scouts, the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorialized::

Animal rights activists say New Jersey doesn’t have a bear problem, it has a human problem. We are invading the bears’ natural habitat. We are disturbing their hibernation spots.  
We are told that if there is any threat, it is from the unsealed garbage and grills we leave outside that lure bears into our neighborhoods. Not the bears in the woods.
Well tell that to the Boy Scout leader who just had to fight one off with a rock hammer — in the woods — in front of some horrified kids.

Once again, this mauling makes it clear: It's them or us.

Guess who the so-called animal “rights” activists choose?

I left these comments:

The discussion must begin with a fundamental question: “What is your moral standard of value: human life or non-human life?” Animal “rights” activists, by logical inference, answer affirmative to the second. To them, every life form has a “right” to live by their nature, except for the only life form for whom the concept of rights actually applies—human beings.

Unlike all other living creatures, humans survive and thrive by altering and reshaping the natural environment through reason-guided physical labor. Man’s survival thus requires pushing aside other animal species. Humans don’t just randomly inhabit. Humans develop and build. By our very nature, to live is to invade some animal’s “natural habitat.”

Animal “rights” activists, by asserting the ridiculous notion that animals have rights (try teaching a cat that a mouse has a right to life), they are effectively obliterating man’s rights. They respect every living creature’s “right” to live according to its nature; every creature, that is, except man. To them, the things we build—from homes to office buildings to shopping malls to courthouses to power plants to roads to reservoirs—are not “natural,” even though to live a life proper to man requires them and much, much more. If we accept the animal “rights” activists’ moral premise, no life-furthering productive work humans do is ever morally acceptable. Humans, to them, must abandon their natural means of survival and live like animals—which means, essentially, to not live at all.

Everything I’ve said here is logically implicit in the idea of animal rights embodied in the bear defenders’ belief that “We are invading the bears' natural habitat.” If it is wrong to infringe on a bear’s natural habitat, then it is wrong to infringe on any animal’s natural habitat. It’s one thing to protect animals against wanton cruelty at the hands of a few bad humans. But the most wantonly cruel thing any human can do is to value animals over humans. And that’s the moral state of the bear champions; they defend the “right” of bears to live by their nature, while forbidding humans to live by theirs—or even to protect themselves from predatory bears. The bear advocates are not politically Left or Right. They are anti-humanists, as is their animal “rights” movement.

I received this reply to my comments:

Your continual dismissal of "animal rights activists" also clearly indicates to me that you have no knowledge of what they believe, which basically is maintaining a logical balance in our natural habitats.

My answer:

Actually, I know exactly what animal rights advocates believe. The idea of “maintaining a logical balance in our natural habitats” proves my point. Logical, by what standard? The very premise denies human nature. Humans don’t have a “natural habitat.” There is no inherently correct “balance” in nature. Humans must create their habitat. Unlike all other species, which have the means to adapt to the natural background, humans are not equipped by nature to survive in an unaltered environment. Habitats suitable to humans simply don’t exist in nature. Humans must reshape and rebalance nature; i,e., adapt his natural background, to the extent of his ability, to his needs—and that includes controlling the bear population to minimize the danger they pose to our lives and property.

For the record, I don’t call for wholesale elimination of species, or wanton disregard for nature. My beliefs are based on observable facts of reality. In point of fact, humans must do exactly as you said we shouldn’t do—“control our natural environment”—to survive. The fact that one of you animal rights activists even suggests that humans shouldn’t proves my point.

Related Reading:

Why They're Human Rights—Russell Paul La Valle

The Animal "Rights" Threat to Human Rights

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Don't Equate the Essence of Socialism to Capitalism

With a major presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, running explicitly as a socialist in the 2016 presidential campaign, the debate between socialism and capitalism became publicly front and center. It’s very discouraging that no major candidate in either major political party, and in particular the Republican Party, stepped up to convincingly defend capitalism.

That’s discouraging, but to be expected given the sad state of what today passes for the political Right Wing. But it’s especially distressing to see people who should know better failing to defend capitalism—and in fact handing the socialists an indispensable intellectual victory that amounts to wholesale surrender.

Surrender is what we get in an article titled When Socialism Works. Yes, the article is as bad as its title suggests. And it was put out by Steven Horwitz for the free market think tank FEE, the Foundation for Economic Education. As the name indicates, FEE is primarily focussed on economics, and does some great work showing how capitalism is economically superior to socialism.

But in his article, Horwitz argues that socialism is at the heart of capitalism, but under capitalism socialism “works” because it is organized in a series of small applications.

The subtitle of When Socialism Works is, “Sanders-Style Economics Will Undo Any Large Society.” Small-scale socialism, argues Horwitz, is the norm, even within capitalist societies, but on a large scale, it produces chaos and misery.

[I]f we think about very small, more homogeneous groups, something like democratic socialism can work. Not only can it work; it largely does work within such small groups all throughout the modern liberal, capitalist order. In fact, the liberal order can be seen as the unplanned interaction of lots of little socialist institutions.

What are the small groups Horwitz refers to? Families, sports teams, the military, and business firms—i.e., voluntary associations of individuals cooperatively working toward a common goal (assuming an all-volunteer military). This small-scale cooperation “enables us to be collectivist and altruistic.” But, does it? Collectivism is the repudiation of the moral worth of the individual in favor of the group, with the individual self-sacrificially serving the collective at the expense of his own self-interest whenever the collective demands it.

Are voluntary cooperative associations really based on individual moral repudiation and sacrifice? Or are such associations based on contributory action geared to mutually selfish benefit? (Free individuals can act self-sacrificially—i.e., self-destructively—but that is beside the point.)

If this is socialism, then why not organize society as a whole socialistically? Because, Horwitz claims, “The problem is that this sort of democratic, participatory socialism cannot scale up. Once we get beyond a small, face-to-face, intimate order, we lose our agreement on ends.” So, the whole argument against socialism, with its unrelenting record of poverty, enslavement, and rivers of blood, is only a matter of size! Socialism is good and it works, as long as it doesn’t get too big. With defenders of capitalism like Horwitz, who needs Bernie Sanders to tell us, “Oh yes, it can—and I’m the one that can make it work.” Suddenly, the socialist Bernie Sanders is the optimist, and the capitalist is the pessimist.

I left these comments, edited for clarity:

This article is very disturbing coming from an advocate of liberty.

When we speak of socialism, we’re not referring to human cooperation. We're speaking politically of a social system of forced subordination of the individual to the group, with the state as the enforcer.

Yet the author blurs the distinction between voluntary association and forced collectivism. Voluntary cooperation toward a common goal is NOT socialism. It is capitalism. Socialism is central planning imposed at the point of a gun. The former is based on individual rights to liberty, the later is a chain gang.

Blurring the distinction between voluntarism and forced collectivism, and calling both a form of socialism, is to give moral cover to totalitarian socialism, the only kind of socialism there is. From a pro-liberty perspective, socialism, democratic or otherwise, can’t "work." Socialism is evil on any scale, because it is based on aggressive force aimed at the repudiation of the individual and his rights. If capitalism is to win over socialism, the fundamental difference between the two systems must be clearly articulated. [NOTE: You can view others’ comments here.]


Actually, aggressive force is not the most fundamental nature of socialism. Force is the consequence of a deeper fundamental. Socialism is based on collectivism, which holds that the standard of moral value is the group. Stripped of moral worth, there’s no reason why any individual(s) shouldn’t be sacrificed—looted, regulated, enslaved, or murdered—for the “common” or “public good,” or the good of some particular group, such as the poor, the sick, the young, or some racial group.

Related Reading:

We Need a Deeper Understanding of Socialism

Monday, March 27, 2017

The AHCA, ObamaCare Without Obama, is Dead. Good Riddance

The AHCA is dead, at least for now—and good riddance. No bill is better this this one. Despite being sold as a “free market reform” package, it was just another statist scheme with a sprinkling of free market nuggets. It was literally ObamaCare without Obama.

Nevertheless, I used the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s reporting by Jonathan D. Salant on the failure of the American Health Care Act (Trump dealt huge loss as Republicans pull Obamacare repeal bill) to make a couple of important points. Below are a couple of excerpts from the article followed by my posted comments:

In an attempt to win the support of more conservative members, the legislation eliminated the requirement that all insurance policies cover outpatient services, emergency care, hospitalization, maternity benefits, mental health and drug treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitation, laboratory services, preventative treatment such as annual checkups, and pediatric dentistry and vision care.

I left these comments:

While I think the AHCA was a bad bill and I’m glad it was defeated, the elimination of benefit mandates was unequivocally a good feature.

The government has no right to dictate what kind of policies insurers can offer and no right to force consumers to buy coverage that they judge to be unnecessary, unneeded, or unaffordable. These kinds of decisions are morally the responsibility of insurers and individual consumers to make based on mutually voluntary contracts.

These mandates don’t only violate the rights of insurers and their customers. They drive up the cost of the policies, defeating the purpose of real health insurance, which is to protect against unforeseeable catastrophic financial calamities. The artificially inflated costs, in turn, generate increasing demands for subsidies. The mandates amount to forced redistribution of wealth through private intermediaries—the fascist approach to socialism. They turn health insurance into a pre-paid health scheme with an extra layer of bureaucracy for routine, foreseeable health expenditures, destroying market discipline on pricing. Nobody in their right mind would want to pay an inflated premium to an insurance company to pay for services he can plan for and pay directly for.

These mandates and others violate the individual’s right to act on her own judgement according to her own rational self-interest, and should be eliminated. They are immoral and impractical economically and, by favoring some at the expense of others, divide us into victims and exploiters, undermining civility and mutual respect that is the only basis for true national unity.

“Trumpcare is Robin Hood in reverse, taking benefits and financial assistance from hard-working middle-class Americans and our most vulnerable in order to give tax breaks to the wealthiest and corporations,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the leader of the floor debate on the Democratic side.

Actually, eliminating subsidies and the taxes that support them would be perfectly consistent with the legend of Robin Hood.

In Robin Hood’s day, people got rich by looting the peasants under cover of law (taxes) to pad their own and their cronies’ nests. Robin Hood was a man of justice. He took the loot from the thieving aristocrats and gave it back to the peasants who earned it.

Today, people including the rich by and large earn their wealth through productive work, enterprise, and market trade. ObamaCare taxes and subsidies, like all redistribution schemes, are no different than what Robin Hood fought against—the practice of looting the productive under cover of law and handing the loot to people who didn’t earn it. Reducing the ObamaCare taxes and subsidies effectively “takes” from the people who receive the loot and returns it to its rightful owners, the people who earned it. So that feature of the GOP bill actually is a Robin Hood feature, not “Robin Hood in reverse.”

Related Reading:

What Does It Mean to Have a 'Right' to Health Care?—Sheldon Richman for

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Who to Trust More: The GOP Deregulationists or the Statists

Statists have a God-like faith in government regulation. Let anyone propose deregulation of any kind, and they go on a rant like the New Jersey Star-Ledger recently did in These N.J. congressmen voted to cheat workers, loosen gun laws. The Star-Ledger was talking about Republican congressmen, of course. No Democrat would dare relax the government’s increasing stranglehold on Americans.

The GOP, you see, want “schizophrenics [to] purchase a gun,” “dumping [of] coal waste into our waterways,” and “tear down workplace protections, clean air regulations, and corporate transparency,” along with other “safeguards” over the next four years.

My rebuttal comments focussed on one particular sentence:

The credibility of this rant against deregulation collapses with a single statement; “Odd, we thought . . . people were learning that burning fossil fuels threatens everything we value.”

If this is the mindset of the people making environmental regulations—and there is every indication that it is—then every environmental regulation is suspect.

The fossil fuel industry is a heroic, morally virtuous industry that provides, and will be needed for the foreseeable future to provide, the vast bulk of the energy that drives our industrial economy, and thus the well-being of human beings. The benefits far outweigh the negatives, yet the environmentalist mindset is blinding hostility toward the fossil fuel industry, despite its huge value.

Just who is the fossil fuel industry? Its investors, employees, and customers—in other words, all of us. If we value our lives—and the Star-Ledger apparently believes nobody values their lives—then it is the enemies of fossil fuels who threaten everything we value.

The Left has a gimmick: It uses legitimate ends as cover to destroy that which they oppose. Just like racists who use the valid concept of voter identification to impose regulations designed to stop the black vote, so environmentalists use the valid concept of sensible environmental laws as a cover to crush fossil fuels. Why? Because environmentalism operates on the moral premise that human impact on raw nature is bad, and should be minimized at any cost, including the cost of reliable, economical energy.

However, humans survive and thrive precisely by impacting raw nature. Human progress depends on altering the environment through technology and development, so as to replace the danger-filled environment that nature gives us into a safe environment conducive to prosperity. That requires massive impact. The environmentalists are against impact on principle, and are therefore anti-human flourishing. The statement quoted above is proof if this anti-humanist premise. We need lawmakers who understand the value of human life and flourishing in charge of making environmental laws—rational laws that are based on objective cost-benefit analysis so we can minimize the pollution side effects of fossil fuels while recognizing fossil fuels’ immensely greater value as life-promoters. People who believe that “burning fossil fuels threatens everything we value” cannot be trusted to do that, because their goal is to minimize human impact rather than maximize human well-being.

It’s not a matter of “deregulate, cross their fingers and hope for the best." The government’s job is to prosecute force and fraud, not regulate the innocent many because of the wrong-doing of the few. The government should do its job of protecting individual rights by prosecuting actual wrongdoing, not merely stand back with its fingers crossed. The regulatory state has gone way beyond this role, dictating how people run their lives and businesses without any evidence of wrongdoing.

The current wave of Congressional regulation-killing, including the overturning of the regulations blindly rushed through at the end of the Obama Administration, is refreshing. I won’t blindly vouch for every act of this Congress. But I trust the GOP Congress far more on environmental regulation—and by extension gun, labor, and regulation generally—than I’ll trust anyone who believes the outrageous and factually untrue assertion that fossil fuels are a grave threat rather than a monumental benefactor.

Related Reading:

Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?—My Article for The Objective Standard

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels—Alex Epstein

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liberal vs. ‘Liberal’, or Enlightenment vs. Dis-Enlightenment

The Enlightenment ideals of reason and individualism spawned a political revolution that resulted in constitutionally limited republican government that recognized individual rights as preceding government. In theory and largely in practice, this new concept of government swept away all manner of state omnipotence and tyranny over the individual. Henceforth, the government would serve as as protector of the sovereignty and liberty of the individual. This political philosophy reached its highest and most consistent expression in the American Declaration of Independence, the philosophical framework that led to the creation of the United States of America.

But, for the last hundred years or so, reactionary political forces of omnipotent government have been steadily rolling back the Enlightenment from American society, largely in and through the field of economics. This roll-back, by and large, is not being accomplished by openly repudiating the Enlightenment. That wouldn’t fly in America, yet. So how does one roll out a statist economic agenda without openly repudiating the Enlightenment that stands in the way? One way is to simply wrap the statist/socialist/collectivist agenda in the veneer of the Enlightenment.

“If you can’t beat the Enlightenment openly, pretend to join it.”

In a piece titled The Enlightenment Keeps On Winning, James A. Haught, editor emeritus of West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail, employs a variation of this tactic.

Money laundering is defined as “The process of taking the proceeds of criminal activity and making them appear legal.” In a kind of idea laundering, Haught smuggles in modern “liberal” or “progressive” statism among a list of genuine accomplishments of Enlightenment-spawned classical liberalism, thus taking the proceeds of anti-Enlightenment political policies and making them appear enlightened. How does Haught accomplish this idea laundering?

Here are excerpts from Haught’s opening paragraphs:

If you study history, you’ll see episodes that changed civilization.

Around three centuries ago, major thinkers began advocating democracy, human rights and personal freedoms. Their period became known as the Enlightenment. It launched the long-running liberals-versus-conservatives conflict still driving much of today’s politics.

Note the absence of the term individual rights. Note the prominence of the term democracy.

Haught cites Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire and America’s Founding Fathers, whom he termed “brilliant radicals,” as leading thinkers of the Enlightenment.

I remember a kind of exercise teachers would present to young children, designed to sharpen the children’s powers of perception, that features an exercise to single out one item that doesn't belong in the picture. For example, the teacher may show a picture featuring a cow, a horse, a zebra, a deer, and a house, and ask, Which of these doesn’t belong in the picture? What if someone asked, which name doesn’t belong on Haught’s list of Enlightenment thinkers?

The first question that jumps out at me is, what is Hobbes doing among these Enlightenment luminaries? I must state at this point that I am not a philosophy expert or historian. That said, I do not consider Hobbes to be an Enlightenment thinker, if by Enlightenment we mean the political ideals of individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government (though he may be considered among Enlightenment thinkers in other respects).

Hobbes believed men are incapable of governing their own lives and, if left free, society would devolve into perpetual violent conflict. Thus, the people, or subjects, must agree—for the sake of peace and civility—to give up their right to govern themselves, and assign to the state the absolute power to act for them. Hobbes advocated a totalitarian state ruled by an “absolute sovereign” chosen by a vote of the people. Once chosen, the sovereign’s powers are irrevocable. (Somehow, Hobbes believed that people incapable of governing themselves are somehow capable of picking a ruler to run their lives. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’re surrounded by modern liberals touting essentially the same thing.) Hobbes called his state Leviathan.

Locke rejected this Hobbesian view of human nature. He believed that as long as they are protected from the occasional predators who exist among them, most people are capable, by virtue of the individual’s unique power of reason, of managing their own affairs and living peacefully among each other. So he advocated the opposite of Hobbes; a social order of individual sovereignty based on individual rights, in which the state’s only function is to protect men’s rights to govern their own lives. He also did not favor democracy understood as absolute majority rule. He believed that the vote was important but limited, being only a means of choosing the elected officials whose job it is to carry out government’s function of protecting the people’s right to govern their own lives, not to choose the omnipotent rulers to run their lives. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, referred to these rights-protecting powers as “just powers.”

Hobbes and Locke both agreed that human society needs a government. But their view of government’s responsibility couldn’t be more opposite. We’ll see Haught’s reason for Hobbes’s inclusion shortly as we continue with his article. Keep in mind, as we read on, Haught’s previous reference to the three centuries-long “liberals-versus-conservatives conflict still driving much of today’s politics”:

The Enlightenment not only produced modern democracy, it also laid the foundation of liberal political values still winning victories today. For three centuries, by fits and starts, Western progress has been mostly a chronicle of progressives defeating conservative resistance. Reformers repeatedly toppled old privileges, hierarchies and establishments. Look at the historical record:

  • Conservatives tried to retain slavery, but they lost.
  • They tried to block voting by women, but they lost.
  • The tried to prevent couples from using birth control, but they lost.
  • The tried to obstruct Social Security pensions for oldsters, but they lost.
  • They tried to outlaw labor unions, but they lost.
  • They tried to prevent unemployment compensation for the jobless, but they lost.
  • They tried to keep stores closed on the Sabbath, but they lost.
  • They banned alcohol during Prohibition, but they eventually lost.
  • They tried to sustain racial segregation, but they lost.
  • They supported government-mandated prayer in school, but they lost.
  • They tried to continue throwing gays in prison, but they lost.
  • They tried to defeat Medicare and Medicaid, but they lost.
  • They tried to halt the sexual revolution, but they lost.
  • They opposed food stamps for the poor, but they lost.
  • They fought against equal human rights laws, but they lost.
  • They tried to censor sexy magazines, books and movies, but they lost.
  • They sought to jail girls and doctors who end pregnancies, but they lost.
  • They tried to block liquor clubs and lotteries, but they lost.
  • They tried to prevent expansion of health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but they lost.
  • They tried to halt same-sex marriage, but they lost.

On and on, through recurring cultural battles, progressive principles that began in the Enlightenment have prevailed. For three centuries, liberals generally have won, conservatives lost.

What will be the next front in the culture war? Legal marijuana? Pistol registration? Free college? Whatever comes, it’s probably safe to predict the eventual winner.

Notice that Haught fails to distinguish between classical liberalism and modern liberalism. Almost to the extent of Hobbes vs. Locke, the two kinds of liberals are worlds apart regarding the role of the state. Modern liberals, or self-described “progressives,” tend to believe, like Hobbes, that the state must regulate our lives to virtually any extent it deems necessary, for our own good. The state, therefore, must possess whatever powers are necessary for it to carry out its open-ended leviathan-esque mission. Classical liberals were aligned with Locke. One might call this equivocation liberal laundering.

Keep in mind that “liberal” derives from liberty. What is liberty?

The Enlightenment represents the embodiment of reason and its political corollaries, individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government. Rights are guarantees to freedom of action in a social context, not an automatic claim to material goods that others must be forced to provide, or a license to force others to deal with you. As Locke and the Founding Fathers understood, rights supercede democracy, or the will of the majority. Enlightenment’s intellectual leaders were not primarily democrats. They were primarily republicans, because they understood that democracy unconstrained by constitutional protections of individual rights is just another form of tyranny. As Locke, the discoverer of individual rights, understood, the consent of the governed does not extend to an electoral majority granting to the government the power to violate individual rights, which are inalienable. A rights-protecting government is an instrument of liberation. True liberals support these values and would never advocate socialist or regulatory welfare state programs, which violate the rights of individuals to act on their own reasoned judgement. Rights protect liberty. Liberty means freedom from coercive interference from other humans beings, including human beings in their capacity as government officials. Liberals protect liberty.

Modern so-called “liberals” are not liberals at all in economic matters. Quite the opposite. They are anti-liberals. In an ever-expanding circle encompassing more and more of the economic sphere, modern liberals are abandoning Enlightenment principles of limited government and personal freedoms and regressing toward Leviathan.

How does one reconcile Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, the Food Stamp program, and other forced redistributionist programs with liberal Enlightenment principles? One can’t. These are not classical liberal programs, but regressions to the pre-Enlightenment statism that held the individual as the subject of the rulers. Where is the protection for the individual’s right to use his money and property as he sees fit? Where is the Enlightenment justification for forced wealth redistribution? That these programs are instituted by elected government officials? But the Enlightenment holds that voters have no more right to authorize these programs than they have to pick up a gun and rob their neighbors directly.

On unions, where is the liberalism in government-backed unionism; i.e, legally forcing companies to deal with unions against their will, or workers being forced into unions against their will? It’s not about outlawing unions. It’s about the Enlightenment principle of freedom of association. Willing workers have a right to form a union and make offers to employers. And employers have a right to decide for themselves whether to contract—i.e., associate—with the union. An enlightened government neither outlaws unions nor outlaws companies’ rights not to recognize the union. No one ever advocated outlawing voluntary unions. “They tried to outlaw labor unions” is a euphemism for “they fought against government-enforced labor unions.”

Haught correctly observes that the Enlightenment embodies the principle that rights’ purpose is to “protect each person from government and the tyranny of the majority”—and then proceeds to list government programs that contradict that principle! This contradiction is consistent with his Hobbes-Locke equivocation—and with the schizophrenic nature of today’s liberal-conservative divide.

Modern liberals are much closer to Enlightenment liberty on some social issues; e.g., gay marriage, abortion, birth control, and prayer in public school (church-state separation). Conservatives are kind of the mirror image of modern liberals. Modern liberals are primarily economic authoritarians. Conservatives are primarily social authoritarians.

From a liberty standpoint, Haught’s list makes no sense, combining as it does both victories and defeats for Enlightenment liberty. Haught’s list seems plausible, however, if you fail to distinguish between Hobbes and Locke, and between classical and modern liberals. Haught’s double equivocation is designed to smuggle in the statist economic agenda of today’s Left under cover real victories for Enlightenment liberty. Abolish slavery or recognize gay marriage? That’s Lockean Enlightenment. Institute Social Security or “free” college? That’s Hobbesian “Enlightenment,” even though the first advances individual rights and the second shreds rights. Everything modern liberals choose to do, in Haught’s fraudulent Enlightenment worldview, is a victory for Enlightenment. Any resistance to modern progressivism is reactionary conservatism. Either way, the modern Left wins. Haught both eats and has his cake. Anything in the modern liberals’ agenda, no matter how reactionary, gets laundered into a victory for the Enlightenment!

Don’t be fooled by it. Having mashed together Hobbes/modern liberalism and Locke/classical liberalism, it becomes clear why Haught snuck the unabashed authoritarian Hobbes into the Enlightenment framework:

While modern liberals can be applauded and supported in areas where they genuinely advance individual rights, such as regarding the decriminalization of abortion and defending church-state separation, it’s important to keep this in mind: Social liberty is less of a positive force for liberty than economic authoritarianism is a danger to liberty. The modern liberals’ pro-Enlightenment social strain won’t save America from tyranny. Why? Because political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom. Economics is the field of production and trade—the lifeblood of human survival. Once the government has a stranglehold on the individual’s means of supporting his life, all other freedoms become hollow.  

The list of “Enlightenment wins” conflates genuine Enlightenment principles—i.e., liberty—with anti-Enlightenment reaction—i.e., a return to government as master and oppressor. How does one reconcile first restoring liberty to slaves to run their own lives, with advocating the seizure of his money to finance other people’s retirements, healthcare, education, or unemployment compensation? Replacing one form of involuntary servitude with another does not belong on a list of Enlightenment progress.

Here’s how I would amend the list:

Enlightenment wins:

  • The abolition of slavery
  • Women’s suffrage
  • Freedom to use birth control
  • Freedom of association, including the right to form unions
  • Ending “blue” laws
  • Legalization of alcoholic beverages
  • Repeal of Jim Crow, Separate but Equal, and other government-enforced segregation
  • Banning prayer in government schools
  • Abolition of sodomy and other anti-gay laws
  • Establishing equal protection of individual rights, properly defined, under the law
  • Legalization of pornagraphic free speech
  • Legalization of abortion
  • Legalization of liquor clubs and lotteries
  • Marriage equality
  • Other genuine individual rights along with laws to protect them.

Enlightenment Retreats:

  • Establishment of Social Security
  • Establishment of “public” K-12 government schooling
  • Government-enforced unionism (e.g. the Wagner Act, collective bargaining “rights”)
  • Government-enforced unemployment compensation
  • Establishment of Medicare and Medicaid
  • Establishment of the Food Stamp and myriad other forced redistributionist “social safety net” programs
  • The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare)
  • Other “progressive/liberal” economic authoritarian initiatives like government-backed student college loans and grants, mandatory paid sick leave, minimum wage laws, et al.
  • Establishment of the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies is another major enlightenment retreat.

Don’t be fooled by the author’s co-mingled listing of pro- and anti-Enlightenment pronouncements. The Enlightenment promise of the inalienable rights to life, liberty, justice, property, and the pursuit of happiness for the individual is facing a terrible reversal at the hands of collectivism, statism, and socialism. The reversal signals the withering of a Lockean America based on respect for individual rights and peaceful coexistence through voluntary trade, and the rise of a Hobbesian America based on collectivistic state domination over the individual.

Related Reading:

Responsibility Depends on Individual Rights