mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Covert Religious Supremacist Agendas”: The $1-Billion-A-Year Right-Wing Conspiracy You Haven’t Heard Of

Have you heard of the $1,750-per-person “Gathering,” which starts Thursday in Orlando, Florida?

Probably not. But if you’re female, gay, non-Christian, or otherwise interested in the separation of church and state, your life has been affected by it.

The Gathering is a conference of hard-right Christian organizations and, perhaps more important, funders. Most of them are not household names, at least if your household isn’t evangelical. But that’s the point: The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest. They’re probably behind that, too.

Featured speakers have included many of the usual suspects: Alliance Defending Freedom President and CEO Alan Sears (2013), Focus on the Family President Jim Daly (2011), and Family Research Council head Tony Perkins (2006). This year, however, they are joined by David Brooks of The New York Times and Michael Gerson of The Washington Post. What’s going on? Has The Gathering gone mainstream?

Hardly, says Bruce Wilson, director of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out’s Center Against Religious Extremism and a leading researcher on The Gathering. The selection of this year’s speakers, he says, is just the latest in a long line of misdirections and canards.

To be sure, untangling webs of funders, organizations, and campaigns can often feel like conspiracy-mongering. Your brain begins to resemble one of those bulletin boards from A Beautiful Mind or Se7en, full of paranoid-seeming Post-Its and strings. Wilson has been untangling these webs for years, and sometimes it shows. His many publications and his emails to me are long-winded, occasionally exaggerated, and sometimes hard to follow.

But often he’s dead on. And beneath the hyperbole, The Gathering is as close to a “vast right-wing conspiracy” as you’re likely to find. So with this year’s conference about to get under way, Wilson gave The Daily Beast an exclusive interview over email—heavily redacted here—about this shadowy, powerful network of hard-right funders.

Lets start with the basics. What is The Gathering?

The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity. Last year, for example, The Gathering 2013 brought together key funders, litigants, and plaintiffs of the Hobby Lobby case, including three generations of the Green family.

The Gathering was conceived in 1985 by a small band of friends at the Arlington, Virginia, retreat center known as The Cedars, which is run by the evangelical network that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. This stealthy network is known as The Family or The Fellowship. Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power described it in great detail.

How much money are we talking about here?

The evangelical right financial dynasties and foundations that meet each year at The Gathering dispense upwards of $1 billion a year in grants. But even that is overshadowed by the bigger sums that The Family and The Gathering have managed to route from the federal and state government to fund their movement via the Faith-Based Initiative program, USAID, PEPFAR and other multibillion-dollar programs.

You mentioned the National Christian Foundation. I bet most of our readers havent heard of that, either. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The NCF was created, back in 1982 or so, to maximize hard right-wing evangelical Christian philanthropic giving. It was so novel and complex, the architects got a special ruling from the IRS, to make sure it was legal. The NCF has multiple overlapping legal entities and holding companies, but at the core is a huge donor-advised fund. The NCF is now the 12th biggest charitable foundation in America that raises money from private sources.

Since its founding, the NCF has given away over $4.3 billion, $2.5 billion of it in the last three years. The NCF gave away $601,841,675 in 2012—and is estimated to have given out $670 million in 2013.

One reason the NCF, a donor-advised fund, has been so successful is that it ensures anonymity for its philanthropists. Many of these individuals may fear a backlash, given the controversial causes that they support.

But we do know about the NCF’s leadership. Two of the NCF co-founders were tied to Campus Crusade for Christ, and the late Larry Burkett, a NCF co-founder, was also one of the co-founders of the Alliance Defense Fund/Alliance Defending Freedom, now the religious right’s preeminent umbrella legal defense fund. NCF’s other co-founder, Atlanta tax lawyer Terrence Parker, sits on the board of directors of the Family Research Council, and also The Gathering Foundation, which puts on The Gathering.

From 2001-12, the NCF gave $163,384,998 to leading anti-LGBT organizations. These include Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund), Campus Crusade for Christ (aka CRU), the National Organization for Marriage, and the Alliance for Marriage. They fund ex-gay ministries like Exodus International, exporters of homophobia like Advocates International, you name it.

The NCF is just getting started, though. The Green family—who were at The Gathering in 2008 and 2013—have said they intend to leave much of their fortune to it. And in 2009, Hobby Lobby-related contributions were the No. 1 source of NCF funding (about $54 million), which we know because Eli Clifton, funded by The Nation Institute, somehow got hold of an NCF 2009 990 Schedule B form, which shows NCF’s top funders that year (Hobby Lobby was No. 1, Maclellan Foundation No. 2).

On another note, Chick-fil-A’s VP and CFO, James “Buck” McCabe, is on the board of the NCF, and in 1999 no less than three of Chick-fil-A’s top leaders spoke at The Gathering (S. Truett Cathy, Dan Cathy, and Don “Bubba” Cathy).

Having worked in philanthropy myself, I can say that these figures are astounding. The leading private funder of LGBT issues gives out about $16 million a year. Which other funders will be there?

Other major players include the John Templeton Foundation ($104,863,836 in 2012 grants), the Barnaby Foundation ($39,939,489), the Christian Community Foundation (an NCF “spinoff”), and the family foundations of the DeVos families (including Rich DeVos, one of the original funders of the Christian Right), Howard & Roberta Ahmanson (operating as Fieldstead & Company—and among the most notorious right-wing funders in America), Adolph Coors, and many others.

Interestingly, some more secular right-wing funders—Scaife, Olin, Bradley—are not known to attend The Gathering.

And yet The Gathering also has some mainstream figures on the schedule, including David Brooks of The New York Times and Michael Gerson of The Washington Post.

Well, there are two possibilities. One, Brooks knows a bit about the underlying politics of The Gathering but doesn’t care, which is to say he’s on board with that political agenda to the extent he’s willing to lend his reputation to the event. Two, he’s relatively clueless. He’s been conned. Which would raise questions about his political acumen.

I’m very suspicious that Brooks’ planned appearance at The Gathering was an outgrowth of his heavy participation in the Faith Angle Forum of frequent The Gathering participant Michael Cromartie, who advises elite secular media on the culture wars, which he is also helping to wage. In 2008 Cromartie talked to The Gathering about the need to “infiltrate” secular media. His Faith Angle Forum was created to bring together elite journalists who covered religion and politics with “experts.” And experts they are—but they’re all picked by Cromartie, and many of them have been speakers at The Gathering, as well.

A lot of these issues are pretty unsurprising: fight the gays, fight abortion. But your research also shows that these Christian Right funders are behind a lot of climate denial.

Yup. Over the last decade, he NCF has pumped over $140 million into groups that oppose action to curb climate change and portray concern over global warming as part of a satanic conspiracy to impose a tyrannical “One World Order” or “New World Order.”

Michael Cromartie, whom I just mentioned, will be one of the presenters at The Gathering 2014. He is a signatory to the positions of the Cornwall Alliance, a rump religious coalition opposing action to curb human-caused climate change. The Cornwall Alliance was itself masterminded by E. Calvin Beisner, who helped coin many of the most popular arguments of the global warming denialist/inaction crowd, in a late 1980s-early 1990s book series project led and financed by Howard Ahmanson and his Fieldstead & Co.

Most of the major players in the Christian Right signed the Cornwell Alliance papers. The Ethics and Public Policy Center (NCF gave it $115,000 over 1- years), Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship ($12,768,852), Focus on the Family ($44,754,804), Campus Crusade for Christ ($55,233,717), Family Research Council ($17,707,343), Concerned Women for America ($160,163), American Family Association ($2,024,033), and others.

This is exhausting, depressing stuff. What keeps you going?

First, endless exposure to the politicized religious right renders the disturbing nature of the subject banal. So at one level, it becomes just another job specialization. Most days, I might as well be studying some obscure species of sea snail.

But I think the story of the politicized religious right is one of the biggest untold stories of our time. It’s the story of how a covert political movement, driven by a well-organized, -funded, and committed minority, has perturbed the political arc of the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful nation on Earth—and how it has subverted the national dialogue.

I’m annoyed at the basic dishonesty of religio/political phenomena such as The Gathering that lay claim to the Christian tradition but ignore its underlying mandate of truth-telling. The semi-covert movement represented by The Gathering may not be able to conquer America and its “7 mountains” (Loren Cunningham, co-originator of the 7M motivational mantra, addressed The Gathering in 2001), but it nonetheless exerts considerable force on international politics, and not in an especially honest manner.

The world needs better. There are many problems to address. And I think world religions can become part of the solutions that guide us toward a better outcome in coming decades, but only insofar as they put aside covert, religious supremacist agendas and work for the common good of all. And workable solutions will require honesty—not currently a hallmark of The Gathering.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, September 25, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Christian Right, Evangelicals, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Pension Jackpot For Wall Street”: A Vicious Cycle Whereby The Financial Industry Wins And Taxpayers, Once Again, Lose

Most consumers understand that when you pay an above-market premium, you shouldn’t expect to get a below-average product. Why, then, is this principle often ignored when it comes to managing billions of dollars in public pension systems?

This is one of the most significant questions facing states and cities as they struggle to meet their contractual obligations to public employees. In recent years, public officials have shifted more of those workers’ pension money into private equity, hedge funds, venture capital and other so-called “alternative investments.” In all, the National Association of State Retirement Administrators reports that roughly a quarter of all pension funds are now in these “alternative investments” — a tripling in just 12 years.

Those investments are managed by private financial firms, which charge special fees that pension systems do not pay when they invest in stock index funds and bonds. The idea is that paying those fees — which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year — will be worth it, because the alternative investments will supposedly deliver higher returns than low-fee stock index funds like the S&P 500.

Unfortunately, while these alternative investments have delivered a fee jackpot to Wall Street firms, they have often delivered poor returns, meaning the public is paying a premium for a subpar product.

In New Jersey, for example, the state’s alternative investment portfolio has trailed the stock market in seven out of the last eight years, while costing taxpayers almost $400 million a year in fees. Had the state followed the advice of investors like Warren Buffett and instead invested its alternative portfolio in a low-fee S&P 500 index fund, New Jersey would have had more than $5 billion more in its pension fund. In all, as New Jersey plowed more pension money into alternatives, its pension returns have routinely trailed median returns for all public pension systems.

It is the same story in other states that have been increasing their alternative investments.

In Rhode Island, Democratic state treasurer Gina Raimondo’s shift of pension money into alternatives has coincided with the pension system trailing median returns. Had the state generated median returns, it would have had $372 million more in its pension system.

Likewise, a Maryland Public Policy Institute study shows that returns from that state’s $40 billion pension system have trailed the median for the last decade. Had the state met the median, it would have $3.2 billion more in its pension system — an amount the study’s authors note is enough to “award 80,000 poor children with $40,000 four-year college scholarships.”

It is a similar tale in North Carolina, Kentucky and many other locales. In short, public officials are spending more and more pension money on high-fee alternative investments, and those investments are generating worse returns than other low-fee investment vehicles.

That brings back the original question: Why are pension funds pursuing such an investment strategy? Some of the answer may have to do with the same psychology that encourages the gambler to try to big-bet his way out of deficits. But it also may have to do with campaign contributions. After all, many of the politicians who have been pushing the alternative investments just so happen to benefit from Wall Street’s campaign contributions.

That spotlights a pernicious dynamic that may be at work: The more public money that goes into alternative investments, the more fees alternative investment firms generate, the more campaign contributions are made by those firms, and thus the more money politicians devote to alternative investments, even as those investments deliver poor results for pensioners. It is a vicious cycle whereby the financial industry wins and taxpayers, once again, lose.

 

By: David Sirota,  Senior Writer at the International Business Times; The National Memo, September 26, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Financial Industry, Public Pension System, Wall Street | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Neocons’ Ferguson Freakout”: Why Their Latest Attack On Obama Makes Them Look So Silly

Near the very end of his Wednesday speech to the U.N. General Assembly — a speech that pundits described as “Wilsonian” and “the most liberal foreign policy address” of his career — President Obama acknowledged that despite its claim of global leadership, the United States sometimes falls short of living up to its self-professed values. “I realize that America’s critics will be quick to point out that at times we too have failed to live up to our ideals,” Obama said. “In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri,” Obama continued, “where a young man was killed, and a community was divided.”

This was the geopolitical equivalent of a boss trying to prove to her employees she’s relatable by noting that even she sometimes makes mistakes. And if they noticed this moment at all, most people likely saw it for what it was: a harmless act of genuflection, delivered by a U.S. president in service of his ultimate goal, rallying global opinion behind another American war in the Middle East. In other words, nothing to see here, folks; keep it movin’.

But as we now know all too well, neoconservatives are not like most people; their response to Obama’s Ferguson remark was nothing short of apoplectic.

“I was stunned,” neocon hero and former Vice President Dick Cheney said of the Ferguson reference during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show later that night. The president’s rhetorical pairing of the turmoil in Ukraine and the Levant with that in Ferguson, Cheney said, was simply unacceptable. “In one case, you’ve got a police officer involved in a shooting, there may be questions about it to be sorted out by the legal process, but there’s no comparison to that with what ISIS is doing to thousands of people throughout the Middle East,” Cheney said, before huffing: “To compare the two as though there’s moral equivalence there, I think, is outrageous.”

Washington Post columnist and fellow neoconservative Charles Krauthammer hit a similar note in his response (also delivered on Fox News, naturally) by dusting off a circa 2009 anti-Obama talking point and describing the speech as “a continuation of the apology tour.” Echoing Cheney, Krauthammer declared Obama “intended [to draw] a moral equivalence” between ISIS and America. He then snarked about the silver lining of having Obama “talking about our sins” at the U.N. in New York City, rather than doing so while on foreign soil. (Like, say, Montreal, where Krauthammer spent his childhood.)

Last — and considering this is the man who helped organize the smear campaign against Bowe Bergdahl — very much least, there was Richard Grenell, former top aide to every neoconservative’s fantasy presidential candidate, ex-U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.  Writing at, yes, Fox News’ website, Grenell argued the president’s mentioning Ferguson was “a big mistake.” Grenell conceded that “humility and self-reflection are admirable leadership qualities” but nevertheless warned how Obama’s speech “gives foreign diplomats from Arab countries and Russia the excuse they need to dismiss America’s condemnation of their actions.” Because they were otherwise so primed for genuine cooperation…

To state the obvious, it is not surprising to find neoconservatives blasting the president, even if he’s currently launching a war against ISIS that, in significant respects, justifies itself intellectually through neoconservative-friendly arguments. Dedicated neoconservatives tend to be rigid partisans when it comes to politics, uninterested in compromise and focused primarily on controlling U.S. military power.  What’s striking about the neocon attack isn’t its churlishness, therefore, but rather its transparency. Think of the characteristic emotional tics of neoconservatism — its paranoia, its insecurity, its obsessive fear of looking weak — and look back again at the words of the president’s neocon critics. They’re all there.

An example: For Cheney, Krauthammer and Grenell, the obvious but unstated assumption is that an American president addressing the United Nations must do so as if he has something to hide. Obama’s attempt to emphasize the U.S.’s role as both leader and member of the international order — to approach the world as an eager partner instead of  an overbearing hegemon — is offensive to them because it treats the idea of a global community as an aspiration instead of a nuisance. Most neoconservatives, as Grenell’s old boss Bolton infamously made plain, aren’t much interested in the idea of a U.N. Since the U.S. can militarily do almost whatever it wants, they don’t see the purpose.

Along the same lines, the response from all three men included expressions of outrage at the president’s supposedly drawing a moral equivalence between ISIS and Ferguson’s police. The fear of the pernicious results of moral equivalency can be found throughout the right, but in the realm of foreign policy, it’s most pronounced among neoconservatives, for whom any recognition of the most basic shared humanity between the U.S. and its foes — and I’m talking basic, here; like the capacity to make mistakes — is tantamount to swearing off any claim to moral legitimacy. The fact that the United States is a more humane, responsible and decent global citizen than the genocidal ISIS is obvious enough to most of us (and not saying much, either). But, again, the neocons are the exception.

Finally, the neocon pushback also highlights what is to my mind one of their most distinctive and revealing features — their utter lack of interest in domestic policy. Neo-imperialists that they are, neocons often see domestic politics solely through the lens of foreign affairs. And because they’re so zeroed-in on what they imagine the world’s perception of the U.S. is (as well as what it should be), they’ll not infrequently analyze domestic events with a kind of myopia that prioritizes the U.S. #brand above all else. Richard Grenell doesn’t know enough about the goings on in Ferguson to understand that Michael Brown’s killing had nothing to do with his alleged robbery, which officer Darren Wilson did not know of when he came into conflict with the teen. He refers to it as a “burglary-turned-shooting.” (I suppose we could chalk Grenell’s mistake up to laziness and/or a desire to mislead, but I’m feeling generous.)

At this point, nearly 13 years after they set up shop in the White House and spent years directing and discrediting U.S. foreign policy, I’d forgive you for wanting a break from having to transport yourself into the gloomy world of the neocons’ minds. But as the ongoing war with ISIS and the aforementioned freakout over Bowe Bergdahl have recently made clear, neoconservatism still has an outsized influence in Washington, if nowhere else. That’s partially because any theory justifying neo-imperialism is bound to have nine lives among the D.C. elite. But it’s also in part the consequence of too many analysts and observers coming across statements like those of Cheney, Krauthammer and Grenell and declining to cut through the bullshit and acknowledge the truth — namely, that these men are very, very silly.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, September 25, 2014

 

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Ferguson Missouri, Neo-Cons | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Understanding Eric Holder’s Tearful Resignation”: “Humbled By His Role In This Nation’s History

President Obama’s announcement of the resignation of Eric H. Holder Jr. as U.S. attorney general was a deeply personal event. The nation’s first African American president was bidding adieu to the man he elevated as the nation’s first black chief law enforcement officer. And if you didn’t know it before yesterday, you certainly know now that the men and their families are close friends. You not only saw the bittersweet emotions of both the president and his attorney general, but you also felt them.

The extraordinary moment at the White House yesterday took me back to a moment I experienced with Holder last year. The image of this attorney general is one of forceful and unwavering resolve in the face of persistent and withering Republican criticism and even an unprecedented congressional vote of contempt against him in 2012. But on this particular day in his office, I observed that the emotions the nation saw yesterday lingered just below the surface. Within an hour of our meeting, I raced to a nearby restaurant to write down what happened. The moment was too powerful to me to entrust to memory.

Holder gave me a tour of his very lived-in office. Memorabilia everywhere. Lots of pictures. One of him at Normandy taken by his former communications director, Tracy Schmaler, he said, was his favorite. There is also a picture of himself with his favorite basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar. And there’s a photo of his three favorite boxers, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis and the other escapes me at the moment.

But there was a series of four photos that caught my attention at his door. It was Holder interacting with a little boy. In one photo, Holder is seen kissing the crying boy on the head. It was from a Drug Enforcement [Administration] memorial event in May 2009, he told me.

As Holder talked about what was happening in the photos, his voice cracked. The family [two boys and their mom] was having a hard time with the loss of their father and her husband. The young son was too young to comprehend what was going on. But, Holder said, the other one was a little bit older and understood the gravity of losing his father.

Holder paused several times recounting that story. Tears were visible in his eyes as we stood side by side. He was able to regain his composure. But when his press secretary Adora Jenkins asked him what he told the little boy, the halting voice and tears reappeared. He said he told the little boy that his father was a hero and that everything would eventually be okay.

After all that Holder has been through, that he is so easily moved by something that happened [then-]three years earlier was telling. As with many things in his office, those photos are a reminder of why he’s in the job he’s in.

Holder loves his job. He takes his duties and responsibilities seriously. He revels in as much as he is humbled by his role in this nation’s history and efforts to have our nation be true to its ideals. And we saw it all in high relief at the White House yesterday.

 

By: Jonathan Capehart, PostPartisan Blog, The Washington Post, September 26, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | DOJ, Eric Holder | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Eminently Stupid”: Libertarianism’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea

Ideas have consequences — and bad ideas have bad consequences.

Just how bad the consequences turn out to be depends to a large extent on the precise character of the bad idea. A bad idea that influences no one isn’t really that bad. It’s just stupid, and instantly forgettable. But a bad idea that lodges in people’s minds, fires their imaginations, inspires them to persuade others of its wisdom, and motivates them to make bad decisions in the world — that idea is truly bad.

Some bad ideas inspire world-historical acts of evil. “The Jews are subhuman parasites that deserve to be exterminated” may be the worst idea ever conceived. Compared with such a grotesquely awful idea, other bad ideas may appear trivial. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them and their pernicious consequences.

Into this category I would place the extraordinarily influential libertarian idea of “spontaneous order.”

Now, regular readers will know that I believe we’re living through something of a “libertarian moment,” culturally speaking, and that I don’t think this is all bad. On most of the conflicts wrapped up with the sexual revolution and its aftermath, for example, I’m on the libertarian side of the argument — though I also think libertarians too often ignore or skirt over the moral dilemmas that arise in a culture of sexual autonomy.

On economic issues, I have far less sympathy for libertarian arguments, but I’m happy that someone is making them. Libertarians can be obnoxiously fixated on one moral-political principle to the exclusion of all others. But their single-minded focus on the liberation of the individual from all forms of coercion makes them very useful to have around. Whether we’re arguing about taxes and government regulations or the soft social coercion associated with received norms, practices, and traditions, it’s a good thing overall for those in positions of political and cultural authority to have to justify themselves before the bar of individual liberty.

But that doesn’t mean libertarians are always right — or even that they always avoid staking out manifestly silly and occasionally harmful positions.

The idea of spontaneous order might be the silliest and most harmful of all.

Simply stated, the idea holds that when groups of individuals are left alone, without government oversight or regulation, they will spontaneously form a social and economic order that is superior in organization, efficiency, and the conveyance of information than an order arranged from the top down through centralized planning.

Popularized by Friedrich Hayek and his fellow Austrian economists in the mid-20th century, the idea actually has its roots in the classical liberal writings of John Locke and Adam Smith.

Locke famously argued that government originates from a prepolitical state of nature in which groups of farmers establish a night-watchman state to protect their natural rights to life, liberty, and property. In this archetypal statement of classical liberal mythology, civilizational order (including the formation of stable families and the institution of private property) emerges spontaneously, prior to the formation of government, which is instituted for the sole purpose of protecting and preserving it.

Adam Smith expanded on this idea, applying it to the market economy, which he famously described as working its wonders as if it were governed by an “invisible hand.” Set millions of people free to pursue their economic self-interest, Smith claimed, and they will spontaneously generate an economic order marked by wealth and growth that benefits nearly everyone lucky enough to reside within it.

Careful readers of Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government and Smith’s The Wealth of Nations will find much subtler views than the positions I’ve presented here. But it is the bowdlerized versions of their thought that have captured the American — and libertarian — imagination.

Populated by generations of immigrants from foreign lands who came to the New World in search of new lives with fresh starts, the United States quickly developed a civil religion predicated on the presumption that it’s possible to “begin the world over again.” Raised to recite that civic catechism, Americans have found it all too easy to believe that the achievements of American civilization flow from the spontaneous efforts of scrappy individuals toiling away in a state of natural freedom, with government either doing nothing significant to help or else standing obstinately in the way of even greater accomplishments.

No wonder so many Americans in the postwar period gravitated to the writings of Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian economist who warned that central government planning was bound to put us on “the road to serfdom.” Rather than looking to the state to guide us — a goal that inevitably ends with it trying to enslave us — we would be better to recognize that the market economy and even civil society as a whole formed spontaneously, as the outcome of countless unregulated acts and decisions by millions of individuals over time. Going forward, Hayek concluded, individual liberty and prosperity depends upon allowing the spontaneous ordering of our collective lives to continue uninterrupted and uncontrolled by the state.

From Locke to Smith to Hayek, the lesson seems clear: Leave people alone, and a coherent civil order will spontaneously emerge and perpetuate itself.

This is utter fiction. A fairy tale. A just-so story that has as much historical veracity as Locke’s happy talk about a prepolitical state of nature filled with spontaneously formed families and settled plots of legitimately gotten farmland.

The fact is that aside from certain very rare cases (see below), it’s impossible to find human beings acting with perfect freedom outside of an already existing political order that shapes their decisions and determines to a considerable extent their behavior and range of possible choices.

President Obama got a lot of flack during his 2012 campaign for re-election for saying that wealthy business owners “didn’t build that” all by themselves, but his point was indisputable. The president mentioned the internet, roads and bridges, firefighting, and other public works that make it possible for the market economy to function and thrive. He could have said far more. How about the culture of general law-abidingness that we call the rule of law? The Federal Reserve’s regulation of the money supply? An independent judiciary for the settlement of civil disputes? Law enforcement at local, state, and federal levels that fights violent crime, fraud, corruption, monopolistic business practices, and a host of other behaviors that would otherwise scuttle the working of markets? And on and on and on.

The order we see at work in the United States and in other advanced democracies is anything but spontaneous.

But there is one situation where it’s possible to see genuine spontaneity in action: when an established political order is overthrown. Now it just so happens that within the past decade or so the United States has, in effect, run two experiments — one in Iraq, the other in Libya — to test whether the theory of spontaneous order works out as the libertarian tradition would predict.

In both cases, spontaneity brought the opposite of order. It produced anarchy and civil war, mass death and human suffering.

In response, some libertarian-minded critics have claimed that this just goes to show the damage that tyranny does to individuals, robbing them of the capacity to govern themselves once they’ve finally been granted their freedom.

Quite so. But then that would seem to imply that postwar Iraq and Libya could have spontaneously produced a liberal democratic order only if its citizens had acted as if they’d already been enjoying life in a liberal democratic order.

That sounds awful unspontaneous.

Order doesn’t just happen, and it isn’t the product of individual freedom. It needs to be established, and it needs to be established first (sometimes by force), before individuals can be granted civic, economic, and social freedom.

The libertarian prophets of “spontaneous order” get things exactly backward, sometimes with catastrophic real-world consequences. Which is why it’s a particularly bad idea.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, September 26, 2014

September 27, 2014 Posted by | Libertarians, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: