Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Nucky Thompson is Still Right …

Back in March 2016, in a blog post, “Nucky Thompson Was Right“, I wrote:

In the very first episode of the HBO hit series Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi, who plays the lead character Nucky Thompson—racketeer, political insider, and bootlegger—lifts his glass of liquor in a toast to ‘the distinguished gentlemen of our nation’s Congress . . . those beautiful, ignorant bastards,’ who enacted the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declared that ‘the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.’


This nightmarish ‘noble experiment‘ lasted from 1920 to 1933, until the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition (and was probably one of the most important reasons for FDR’s initial first-term popularity as an advocate for its repeal). Without a doubt, the major effect of this legislation was to give a boost to organized crime. From speakeasies to mob wars, the general population of this country became part of a new culture of criminality that put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. As an entry on Wikipedia puts it:


“Organized crime received a major boost from Prohibition. Mafia groups limited their activities to prostitution, gambling, and theft until 1920, when organized bootlegging emerged in response to Prohibition. A profitable, often violent, black market for alcohol flourished. Prohibition provided a financial basis for organized crime to flourish. In a study of more than 30 major U.S. cities during the Prohibition years of 1920 and 1921, the number of crimes increased by 24%. Additionally, theft and burglaries increased by 9%, homicides by 12.7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction by 44.6%, and police department costs rose by 11.4%. This was largely the result of ‘black-market violence’ and the diversion of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movement’s hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that the Volstead Act led to higher crime rates than were experienced prior to Prohibition and the establishment of a black market dominated by criminal organizations. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre produced seven deaths, considered one of the deadliest days of mob history. Furthermore, stronger liquor surged in popularity because its potency made it more profitable to smuggle. To prevent bootleggers from using industrial ethyl alcohol to produce illegal beverages, the federal government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols. In response, bootleggers hired chemists who successfully renatured the alcohol to make it drinkable. As a response, the Treasury Department required manufacturers to add more deadly poisons, including the particularly deadly methyl alcohol. New York City medical examiners prominently opposed these policies because of the danger to human life. As many as 10,000 people died from drinking denatured alcohol before Prohibition ended. New York City medical examiner Charles Norris believed the government took responsibility for murder when they knew the poison was not deterring people and they continued to poison industrial alcohol (which would be used in drinking alcohol) anyway. Norris remarked: ‘The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol… [Y]et it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.'”

In that post, I discussed how the “War on Drugs” was one of those vestiges of the Nixon administration, a policy that Nixon’s chief domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman admitted was a blatant strategy “to go after anti-war protesters and ‘black people’.” He went on to say: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

By 1973, about 300,000 people were being arrested every year under the law—the majority of whom were African-American.

I reiterated in that 2016 post: “For years, voices on the left and on the right (from the time of William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman to Senator Rand Paul today) have been advocating a saner drug policy. Forty years after this declaration of a ‘War on Drugs,’ 1 trillion dollars in taxpayer money spent, the prisons are packed—drug use is apparently just as rampant behind bars as on the streets—but the epidemic stretches from the inner cities to suburbia. It is clear, however, that no political change will occur if we have to depend on those ‘beautiful, ignorant bastards,’ until there is a cultural shift across this country that allows this issue to be re-examined fundamentally. The time has come.”

Well. Something extraordinary happened on Election Day 2020. It was noted by both Jonah Engel Bromwich in his essay, “This Election, a Divided America Stands United on One Topic,” and Nicholas Kristof, who writes in his New York Times November 8, 2020 column, “Republicans and Democrats Agree: End the War On Drugs“:

One of America’s greatest mistakes over the last century was the war on drugs, so it’s thrilling to see voters in red and blue states alike moving to unwind it. The most important step is coming in Oregon, where voters easily passed a referendum that will decriminalize possession of even hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, while helping users get treatment for addiction. The idea is to address drug use as a public health crisis more than as a criminal justice issue. In Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota, voters decisively passed measures liberalizing marijuana laws. Marijuana will now be legal for medical use in about 35 states and for recreational use in 15 states. …


One result of the war on drugs is that today there are as many Americans with arrest records as with college degrees. Yet we still lost the war. Addiction has soared in the United States, and more Americans die from overdoses each year than died in the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars combined. A baby is born dependent on drugs every 15 minutes. … Left and right both recognize the need for new thinking on the topic …


The new Oregon law is modeled after one in Portugal, which pioneered decriminalization and has emphasized treatment of those with addictions. 

The movement from prohibition to treatment will have a decisive impact on the prison population in the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Let’s hope that this area of social policy will continue to find friends, both blue and red. Indeed, the time is now.

Postscript (16 November 2020): Check out “Who Will Follow Oregon’s Lead On Drugs” by Dr. Mary Bassett.

JARS: Our Twentieth Anniversary Celebration Concludes

I am delighted and deeply honored to announce the publication of the second of two issues celebrating the twentieth anniversary of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. The December 2020 issue will be making its debut shortly on JSTOR; print subscribers should expect the second of these two historic issues in the weeks thereafter.

Issue #40 (Volume 20, Number 2) – December 2020

As I mentioned back on June 5, 2020, we decided to devote two issues to reviewing those works in the general area of Rand studies, which have never been critically appraised in our pages. The list of works reviewed in this second issue of volume 20 are:

The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism, by Nathaniel Branden

Think as If Your Life Depends on It: Principles of Efficient Thinking and Other Lectures, by Barbara Branden

The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, edited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins

Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins

Foundations of a Free Society: Reflections on Ayn Rand’s Political Philosophy, edited by Gregory Salmieri and Robert Mayhew

Culture and Liberty: Writings of Isabel Paterson, by Isabel Paterson (edited by Stephen Cox)

Myth, Meaning, and Antifragile Individualism: On the Ideas of Jordan Peterson, by Marc Champagne

Ayn Rand: An Introduction, by Eamonn Butler

Atlas Rising: Ayn Rand and Silicon Valley by The Atlas Rising Institute

Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed, by Lisa Duggan

Bucking the Artworld Tide: Reflections on Art, Pseudo Art, Art Education & Theory, by Michelle Marder Kamhi

The Soul of Atlas: Ayn Rand, Christianity, a Quest for Common Ground, by Mark David Henderson

The Perfectionist Turn: From Metanorms to Metaethics, by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen

***

As is the case with every issue, we have introduced at least one new contributor to the JARS family. This issue brings debut pieces from four new contributors: Onar Am, Alec Mouhibian, Molly Sechrest, and Amos Wollen.

Here is our Table of Contents for Volume 20, Number 2 (the abstracts can be found here; contributor biographies can be found here):

The Man Who Would Be Galt – Dennis C. Hardin

Something That Used to Be Objectivism: Barbara Branden’s Psycho-Epistemology – Robert L. Campbell

The Dialectics of Liberty – Allen Mendenhall

Free Market Revolution: Partial or Complete? – Chris Matthew Sciabarra

From Defiant Egoist to Submissive Citizen: Is There a Bridge? Why the Hell Is There a Bridge? – Roderick T. Long

Goddess of the Republic – Alec Mouhibian

Peterson, Rand, and Antifragile Individualism – Onar Am

Introducing Ayn Rand – Edward W. Younkins

Silicon Rand – Troy Camplin

Ayn Rand: Mean Girl? – Mimi Reisel Gladstein

Bucking the Artworld Tide – Molly Sechrest

Ayn Rand and Christianity: The Virtuous Parallels – Amos Wollen

The Perfectionist Turn – David Gordon

Eudaimon in the Rough: Perfecting Rand’s Egoism – Roger E. Bissell

Index to Volume 20

Those seeking to subscribe to the journal should visit the sites linked here. And—as we march into the third decade of this remarkable journal—those wishing to submit manuscripts for consideration should follow the instructions here.

Once again, I wish to express my deepest appreciation to my co-editors, our board of advisors, our contributors, and most of all, our readers, without whom we would never have been able to publish this grand finale—the longest single issue in the history of our journal—to our twentieth anniversary volume.

As I said in the Introduction to Volume 20, Number 1: “Here’s to another two decades and beyond of JARS triumphs . . . two decades, or until such time as Rand studies have so penetrated the literary and philosophic canon that specialized journals of this nature are no longer required.”

7-Day Course Challenge: “Methodology of the Social Sciences” (Course #7)

My friend Daniel Bastiat tagged me on Facebook for a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course.

Day #7 Course: Methodology of the Social Sciences
(For undergraduate- and graduate-level students)

  1. Investigations into the Methods of the Social Sciences – Carl Menger
  2. The Poverty of Historicism – Karl Popper
  3. The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory – Richard J. Bernstein
  4. Dialectical Investigations – Bertell Ollman
  5. The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom – Edited by Roger E. Bissell, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, and Edward W. Younkins [oh c’mon, gimme a break—it’s the very last book recommendation on the very last day of this challenge 🙂 ]
Methodology of the Social Sciences – Selected Readings

7-Day Course Challenge: “Austrian Economics: A Primer” (Course #6)

My friend Daniel Bastiat tagged me on Facebook for a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course.

Day #6 Course: Austrian Economics: A Primer
(For undergraduate- and graduate-level students)

  1. The Elgar Companion to Austrian Economics – Edited by Peter J. Boettke
  2. The Foundations of Modern Austrian Economics – Edited by Edwin G. Dolan
  3. New Directions in Austrian Economics – Edited by Louis M. Spadaro
  4. Austrian Economics, 3 vols. – Edited by Stephen Littlechild

These volumes include selections from writers across the Austrian tradition, from its founders to its contemporary exponents: Bruce Benson, Peter Boettke, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, Sam Bostaph, Donald Boudreaux, William Butos, Richard Ebeling, Roger Garrison, Steve Horwitz, Sanford Ikeda, Emil Kauder, Israel Kirzner, Roger Koppl, Ludwig Lachmann, Don Lavoie, Peter Lewin, Stephen Littlechild, G. B. Madison, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, Gerald O’Driscoll, Dave Prychitko, Mario Rizzo, Murray Rothbard, Joseph Salerno, Joseph Schumpeter, George Selgin, Sudha Shenoy, Mark Skousen, Barry Smith, Friedrich Weiser, and Lawrence White, among others.

Compilations in Austrian Economics

7-Day Course Challenge: “The Progressive Era: Revisionist Perspectives” (Course #3)

My friend Daniel Bastiat tagged me on Facebook for a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course.

Day #3 Course: The Progressive Era: Revisionist Perspectives
(For undergraduate- and graduate-level students)

  1. A New History of Leviathan – Edited by Ronald Radosh and Murray Rothbard
  2. The Progressive Era – Murray Rothbard
  3. The Decline of American Liberalism – Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.
  4. The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916 – Gabriel Kolko
  5. The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State: 1900-1918 – James Weinstein

(And before Rob Bradley says one word, his essay with Roger Donway is worth a look: “Gabriel Kolko’s ‘Political Capitalism’: Bad Theory, Bad History,” as is Joseph Stromberg’s response in “The Molinari Review” [Autumn 2019]: “The War on Kolko.”)

Revisionist Perspectives on The Progressive Era

Postscript (29 August 2020): I added this point to my post on Facebook:

I think that there are important questions that should be raised about some aspects of Kolko’s work, but even Bradley and Donway admit that his approach essentially changed the whole trajectory of thinking about the Progressive Era. They are concerned about some of the interpretations he offers of the data and also with his political slant, but they do credit him:

“Our reinterpretation of Kolko in light of libertarian thought should not take away from Kolko’s success in amending the simplistic Progressivist interpretation of American history.”

“Unquestionably, Kolko did valuable work in disproving the old stereotypes of Gilded Age businessmen as uncompromising pro-capitalists and Progressive reformers as do-gooders. He showed that industrialists had not been as laissez-faire or reformers as high-minded as Progressivism alleged.”

See here and here. I feature some discussion of Kolko’s work and of the broader revisionist historical perspective in an essay forthcoming in the twentieth anniversary finale issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (December 2020): “Free Market Revolution: Partial or Complete?” — a review of the Yaron Brook/Don Watkins book.

7-Day Course Challenge: “The Roads to Serfdom: Readings” (Course #2)

My friend Daniel Bastiat tagged me on Facebook for a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course.

Day #2 Course: The Roads to Serfdom: Readings
(For undergraduate- and graduate-level students)

After two weeks of political conventions, whatever your political persuasion, I think a course offering different perspectives on “The Roads to Serfdom” is in order. Your readings:

  1. The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt
  2. The Mass Psychology of Fascism – Wilhelm Reich
  3. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World – Barrington Moore, Jr.
  4. Nationalism and Culture – Rudolf Rocker
  5. The Road to Serfdom – F. A. Hayek
Perspectives on the Roads to Serfdom

Postscript (29 August 2020): This Facebook post led to quite a few comments and I’ll just take a few excerpts of some of the additional comments I made.

The case of Hayek is … complex; I think he certainly raised important issues about the dynamics of market processes, and the nature of both the dispersion knowledge and the importance of its tacit component (not captured by articulated “data”). Without opening up a Pandora’s box of discussion on this thread, I think it can’t be denied that at the very least Hayek’s work continues to challenge the left, and in its wake, there has been some fine scholarly work from folks as diverse as Hilary Wainwright (Arguments for a New Left) and Ted Burczak (Socialism After Hayek). Heck, even my mentor, Bertell Ollman, was a Volker fellow under Hayek at the University of Chicago–and learned much from him. It was Bertell’s encouragement that led me to author a dissertation on Marx, Hayek, and Murray Rothbard, the first two parts of which resulted in my own Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (SUNY Press, 1995) and the Rothbard portion of which appeared in expanded form as the second part of my Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (Penn State Press, 2000). And while we’re at it, check out the recently published Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom.

I think that Road to Serfdom was Hayek’s most “popular” and therefore most polemical work. The more dialectical themes in that work are his insistence on an organic relationship between political and economic freedom. But his chief dialectical sensibility shows up in his critique of utopianism, which shares much with Marx’s own critique of utopian socialism, and of course, his understanding not only of the role of knowledge (which … is as applicable to large corporations as it is to the state; even Rothbard said something similar with regard to the “One Big Firm” and its calculational problems)… but also his fine take-down of conservatism (“Why I Am Not a Conservative”).

I also think the Hayekian impact on contemporary left-libertarian anarchists can’t be emphasized enough.

Nevertheless, I’ve come to veer away from the -isms… I long ago rejected using the term “capitalism” (given its “known reality“): … and I’m pretty sure that at this stage too many folks are talking past each other because the -isms are so historically loaded. The “communism” of the USSR, in my view, had little or nothing to do with Marx’s vision of communism, and the “capitalism” of the US had almost nothing in common with Ayn Rand’s “unknown ideal.” I have thought more in terms of how relations of power manifest themselves across several dimensions (as I’ve argued in my “Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy”: the personal, the cultural, and the structural), and though, as a social theorist I focus much on the statist aspects of those relations of power, I have long argued that those extra-political aspects of oppression are both preconditions and effects of the broader statist system that I oppose.