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  • Author: Slade Mendenhall
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty, by Timothy Sandefur. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2014. 200 pp. $24.95 (hardcover). While the principles of liberty on which America was founded are under attack from so-called liberals and conservatives alike, and while expanding abuses of government power are too vast and complex for most Americans to fully follow, books by rational, knowledgeable professionals clearly and concisely explaining the problems and offering solutions are of immense value. Timothy Sandefur's The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty fits this bill. Sandefur, a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, bases his latest work on an underappreciated idea in American legal thinking. It is the idea that the Declaration of Independence—understood as a formal, legal, diplomatic document issued by the representatives of thirteen British colonies to the king of England—is part of the law of the land, just as are the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In fact, argues Sandefur, the Declaration used to be seen as the “conscience of the Constitution,” and reviving this understanding of its position in the framework of U.S. law will go a long way toward establishing the moral and political context within which lawyers, judges, and Supreme Court justices should argue and interpret constitutional law. Sandefur's thesis is controversial and is not likely to be well received in modern courts and law classrooms. Most law schools teach students to view the Declaration as a mere manifesto or letter of aspiration. But Sandefur wages a compelling intellectual defense of the Declaration-as-law on two fronts: against leftists, who have ridiculously claimed that the document was drafted as a wink-and-nod effort by elite white men to put down minorities and the lower classes; and against conservatives such as Russell Kirk and neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol who, afraid of its “natural rights” language, dismiss the ideas of the Declaration and characterize it as an underhanded “ploy to lure the French” into conflict with the English (p. 14). Sandefur, pointing out the baseless nature of such criticisms, puts forth a strong argument for holding the Declaration as law and highlights the Founding Fathers' own understanding of it as such. . . .
  • Topic: Government
  • Political Geography: America, Washington, England
  • Author: Alexander V. Marriott
  • Publication Date: 06-2014
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: Was Abraham Lincoln, as most Americans believe, a defender of individual rights, a foe of slavery, and a savior of the American republic—one of history's great heroes of liberty? Or was he a tyrant who turned his back on essential founding principles of America, cynically instigated the bloody Civil War to expand federal power, and paved the way for the modern regulatory-entitlement state? In the face of widespread popular support for Lincoln (note, for example, the success of the 2012 Steven Spielberg film about him) and his perennially high reputation among academics, certain libertarians and conservatives have promoted the view that Lincoln was a totalitarian who paved the way for out-of-control government in the 20th century. Those critics are wrong. Contrary to their volumes of misinformation and smears—criticisms that are historically inaccurate and morally unjust—Lincoln, despite his flaws, was a heroic defender of liberty and of the essential principles of America's founding. Getting Lincoln right matters. It matters that we know what motivated Lincoln—and what motivated his Confederate enemies. It matters that we understand the core principles on which America was founded—and the ways in which Lincoln expanded the application of those principles. It matters that modern advocates of liberty properly understand and articulate Lincoln's legacy—rather than leave his legacy to be distorted by antigovernment libertarians (and their allies among conservatives), leviathan-supporting “progressives,” and racist neo-Confederates. My purpose here is not to present a full biographical sketch of Lincoln, nor to detail all types of criticisms made against him. Rather, my goal is to present sufficient information about Lincoln and his historical context to answer a certain brand of his critics, typified by Ron Paul, formerly a congressman from Texas and a contender for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2008 and 2012. Paul and his ilk characterize Lincoln's engagement of the Civil War as a “senseless” and cynical power grab designed to wipe out the “original intent of the republic.” Such claims are untrue and unjust, as we will see by weighing them in relation to historical facts. Toward that end, let us begin with a brief survey of claims by Lincoln's detractors. The revision of Lincoln and his legacy began in earnest soon after the Civil War, but, at the time, it was relegated to the intellectual swamp of Confederate memoirs and polemics. What was once the purview of a defeated and demoralized rump and of early anarchists such as Lysander Spooner has picked up steam within the modern libertarian movement. In the early 20th century, the acerbic newspaperman and social critic H. L. Mencken seriously suggested that the Confederates fought for “self-determination” and “the right of their people to govern themselves.” He claimed that a Confederate victory would have meant refuge from a northern enclave of “Babbitts,” the attainment of a place “to drink the sound red wine . . . and breathe the free air.” Mencken's musings were but a symptom of a broader change in how many Americans came to view the Civil War. The conflict was no longer “the War of the Rebellion,” but “the War between the States.” The Confederate cause was no longer an essentially vile attempt to preserve slavery, but an honorable attempt to preserve autonomous government. Not coincidentally, during this period, Confederate sympathizers built monuments to the Confederacy throughout the South, and D. W. Griffith's openly racist silent film The Birth of a Nation presented revisionist Civil War history and contributed to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. Sometimes Confederate sympathizers claimed that the Civil War was not really about slavery; other times they claimed that slavery was a glorious institution the South sought to preserve. More recently, Murray N. Rothbard—widely regarded as the godfather of the modern libertarian movement (and someone who saw Mencken as an early libertarian)5—characterized the Civil War as the fountainhead of the modern regulatory state: The Civil War, in addition to its unprecedented bloodshed and devastation, was used by the triumphal and virtually one-party Republican regime to drive through its statist, formerly Whig, program: national governmental power, protective tariff, subsidies to big business, inflationary paper money, resumed control of the federal government over banking, large-scale internal improvements, high excise taxes, and, during the war, conscription and an income tax. Furthermore, the states came to lose their previous right of secession and other states' powers as opposed to federal governmental powers. The Democratic party resumed its libertarian ways after the war, but it now had to face a far longer and more difficult road to arrive at liberty than it had before. Thomas DiLorenzo, a colleague of Rothbard's until Rothbard's death in 1995, penned two books responsible for much of today's libertarian and conservative antagonism toward Lincoln: The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (2002) and Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe (2006). (Both DiLorenzo and Ron Paul are senior fellows of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, an organization that, while bearing the name of the great Austrian economist von Mises, is more closely aligned with Rothbard's anarchist views.) Largely through his influence on popular economist Walter E. Williams, who wrote the foreword to DiLorenzo's 2002 book, DiLorenzo has reached a relatively wide audience of libertarians and conservatives. Williams is known to many as a genial guest host for The Rush Limbaugh Show, a fellow of the Hoover Institute, and a distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University. He gave his imprimatur to DiLorenzo's work, thereby elevating what might otherwise have been a peculiar book from the depths of Rothbard's libertarian, paleoconservative, neo-Confederate intellectual backwater to a nationally known and provocative piece of severe Lincoln revisionism. What are the essential criticisms leveled against Lincoln by such writers as Mencken and DiLorenzo? The most important of these criticisms can be grouped into four categories. First, these critics claim, Lincoln eviscerated the right of secession supposedly at the heart of the American Revolution. Second, say the critics, Lincoln did not truly care about slavery; he invoked it only to mask his real reasons for pursuing war—to expand the power of the federal government. Anyway, the critics add, slavery would have ended without a Civil War. Third, argue the critics, Lincoln subverted the free market with his mercantilist policies, thereby laying the groundwork for the big-government Progressives to follow. Fourth, Lincoln supposedly prosecuted the war tyrannically; in DiLorenzo's absurd hyperbole, Lincoln was a “totalitarian” who constructed an “omnipotent” state. Let us look at each of these criticisms in greater detail—and put them to rest—starting with the claim that Lincoln spurned the fundamental principles of the founding by opposing secession.
  • Topic: Government
  • Political Geography: America
  • Author: Ari Armstrong
  • Publication Date: 06-2013
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: Should government further restrict the ability of rights-respecting Americans to buy, own, and carry guns, or should it recognize that ability as a basic right and protect it? David B. Kopel, among the most influential Second Amendment scholars working today, makes a terse but cogent argument for the right to keep and bear arms in his latest book, The Truth about Gun Control.
  • Topic: Government
  • Political Geography: America
  • Author: Steve Simpson
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: The revelation in May of this year that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was systematically targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny under the laws governing nonprofit organizations shocked the nation and triggered one of the Obama administration's biggest scandals to date. According to a Treasury inspector general's report, in May of 2010, agents in the IRS's Cincinnati office began singling out applications for nonprofit status from groups with terms such as "Tea Party" or "patriot" in their names. The agents conducted lengthy investigations of the groups to determine whether they intended to spend too much of their money on political activities that are prohibited to most nonprofits.1 The IRS required some groups to answer long lists of questions about their intentions, it demanded donor lists from others, and it even examined Facebook and Internet posts.2 Some groups simply gave up and withdrew their applications. Others spent two years waiting for a decision that never came.3 When Congress investigated the scandal, Lois Lerner, the former head of the office that oversees nonprofit organizations, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify. Later, hearings revealed that Douglas Shulman, the former head of the IRS, was cleared to visit the White House at least 157 times during his tenure and that IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, who was one of two Obama appointees at the IRS, helped develop the agency's guidelines for investigating the Tea Party groups.4 As a result, critics of the IRS have good reason to think that the scandal reaches the highest levels of our government. The public's outrage over this scandal is, of course, entirely appropriate. If the government can enforce laws based on nothing more than one's political views, then both freedom of speech and the rule of law are dead. But the outrage over the IRS's focus on conservative groups obscures a far more important question: Why was the IRS investigating the political activities of any group? The answer to that question is more troubling than the possibility of rogue IRS agents, biased law enforcement, or even abuses of power at the highest levels. As bad as all of those things are, the bigger threat to freedom is a legal regime that requires scrutiny of Americans' political activities and a political and intellectual culture that applauds such scrutiny and openly calls for more of it. This is the situation in America today. Our tax and campaign finance laws impose a host of regulations on Americans based on how much time, effort, and money they spend on political speech, and many opinion leaders agitate for even more laws and investigations every day. Against this backdrop, the IRS scandal should not surprise us. Our politicians and intellectuals demanded regulation of some of the loudest voices in our political debates, and the IRS delivered. Unfortunately, far too many critics of the IRS have accepted the premise that our laws should distinguish between groups that spend money on political activities and groups that do not. Expressing this view, Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein has argued that the real scandal was that the IRS did not treat all nonprofits as harshly as it treated the Tea Party groups.5 Using the same reasoning, congressional Democrats have attempted to blunt the scandal by claiming that the IRS also investigated some groups on the left.6 It appears that these claims are untrue, but the message is clear: As long as the government is scrutinizing everyone's speech equally, then there is no scandal. But this is the opposite lesson to learn from the IRS scandal. For anyone who cares about freedom of speech, the real scandal is that the government regulates Americans' campaign spending at all. So long as laws remain on the books that do so, scandals such as this one-and far worse-are inevitable. But to understand why that is so requires a deeper understanding of the premises on which the laws are based and how the laws operate in practice. . . .
  • Topic: Government
  • Political Geography: America, Washington
  • Author: Michael Dahlen (reviewer)
  • Publication Date: 10-2013
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: From 2006 to 2007, Peter Schiff, CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, was one of few people warning that the U.S. economy was fundamentally unsound and that real estate was grossly overpriced. In his first book, Crash Proof: How to Profit From the Coming Economic Collapse (2007), he predicted that the economy, the housing market, and the stock market would fall apart. He also voiced these predictions on several cable news shows, yet few people heeded his warnings. Some hosts and other guests even mocked and ridiculed him. But Schiff was right. In his recent book, The Real Crash: America's Coming Bankruptcy-How to Save Yourself and Your Country, Schiff says that the worst is yet to come and that the 2008-2009 economic crisis was merely a "tremor before the earthquake." Schiff argues that the main culprit of our economic instability is America's central bank: the Federal Reserve. Through its control of the money supply and the effect this has on interest rates, the Fed artificially inflates the prices of various asset classes, creating so-called "bubbles," and when those prices inevitably collapse, the Fed then inflates the prices of other asset classes. "Throughout the 1990s," Schiff observes, "we had the stock bubble and the dot-com bubble. The Fed replaced that with the housing bubble and the credit bubble. Now, the Fed and the administration are replacing those bubbles with the government bubble" (p. 20). By "government bubble," Schiff is referring to the U.S. dollar and Treasury bonds. When asset prices collapse and recessions ensue, Schiff notes, the Fed-via bailouts and low interest rates-props up insolvent banks and other companies (while also helping to finance government debt). It has taken these actions allegedly to minimize the short-term pain of recessions, but in doing so, the Fed has prevented the economy from correcting itself, making it increasingly unsound. "If you keep replacing one bubble with another, you eventually run out of suds. The government bubble is the final bubble" (p. 23). If the Fed keeps interest rates artificially low and if the government keeps running massive budget deficits, the day will come, Schiff argues, "when the rest of the world stops trusting America's currency and our credit. Then we'll get the real crash" (p. 1). In his introduction to the book, Schiff explains that he is taking a different approach here than he took in his previous books: "[T]his time I have decided that rather than simply predicting doom, I would lay out a comprehensive set of solutions. That's why I wrote this book" (p. 2). After diagnosing our economic problems, Schiff explains how we can fix them. . . .
  • Topic: Economics, Government
  • Political Geography: America
  • Author: Craig Biddle
  • Publication Date: 12-2012
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have labeled themselves “America's Comeback Team”—a political tagline that would be great were it grounded in a philosophical base that gave it objective, moral meaning. What, politically speaking, does America need to “come back” to? And what, culturally speaking, is necessary for the country to support that goal? America was founded on the principle of individual rights—the idea that each individual is an end in himself and has a moral prerogative to live his own life (the right to life); to act on his own judgment, un-coerced by others, including government (liberty); to keep and use the product of his effort (property); and to pursue the values and goals of his choosing (pursuit of happiness). Today, however, legal, regulatory, or bureaucratic obstacles involved in any effort to start or operate a business, to purchase health insurance, to plan for one's retirement, to educate one's children, to criticize Islam for advocating violence, or so much as to choose a lightbulb indicate how far we've strayed from that founding ideal. If America is to make a comeback—and if what we are to come back to is recognition and protection of individual rights—then Americans must embrace more than a political tagline; we must embrace a philosophy that undergirds individual rights and that gives rise to a government that does one and only one thing: protects rights. Although the philosophy of the Founding Fathers was sufficient ground on which to establish the Land of Liberty, it was not sufficient to maintain liberty. The founders advocated the principle of individual rights, but they did not fully understand the moral and philosophical foundations of that principle; they did not understand how rights are grounded in observable fact. Nor did the thinkers who followed them. This is why respect for rights has been eroding for more than a century. If America is to “come back” to the recognition and protection of rights, Americans must discover and embrace the philosophical scaffolding that undergirds that ideal, the scaffolding that grounds the principle of rights in perceptual fact and gives rise to the principle that the only proper purpose of government is to protect rights by banning force from social relationships. The philosophy that provides this scaffolding is Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. To see why, let us look at Rand's philosophy in contrast to the predominant philosophies of the day: religion, the basic philosophy of conservatism; and subjectivism, the basic philosophy of modern “liberalism.” We'll consider the essential views of each of these philosophies with respect to the nature of reality, man's means of knowledge, the nature of morality, the nature of rights, and the proper purpose of government. At each stage, we'll highlight ways in which their respective positions support or undermine the ideal of liberty. As a brief essay, this is, of course, not a comprehensive treatment of these philosophies; rather, it is an indication of the essentials of each, showing how Objectivism stands in contrast to religion and subjectivism and why it alone supports a culture of freedom. Objectivism stands in sharp contrast to religion and subjectivism from the outset because, whereas religion holds that there are two realities (nature and supernature), and whereas subjectivism holds that there is no reality (only personal opinion and social convention), Objectivism holds that there is one reality (this one before our eyes). Let's flesh out these differences and their significance with respect to liberty. . . .
  • Topic: Government, Islam
  • Political Geography: America
  • Author: Ari Armstrong
  • Publication Date: 12-2012
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: Stop letting the enemies of capitalism claim the moral high ground. There is nothing noble about altruism, nothing inspiring about the initiation of force, nothing moral about Big Government, nothing compassionate about sacrificing the individual to the collective. Don't be afraid to dismiss those ideas as vicious, unjust attacks on the pursuit of happiness, and self-confidently assert that there is no value higher than the individual's pursuit of his own well-being.
  • Topic: Economics, Government
  • Political Geography: America
  • Author: Ari Armstrong
  • Publication Date: 12-2012
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: Imagine how great it would be to have your own inside tour guide to the modern financial crisis, someone able to comment on the crisis not as an onlooker, but as the leader for two decades of one of America's strongest financial institutions.
  • Topic: Government, Law
  • Political Geography: United States, America
  • Author: Michael A. LaFerrara
  • Publication Date: 03-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: More and more Americans are coming to recognize the superiority of private schools over government-run or “public” schools. Accordingly, many Americans are looking for ways to transform our government-laden education system into a thriving free market. As the laws of economics dictate, and as the better economists have demonstrated, under a free market the quality of education would soar, the range of options would expand, competition would abound, and prices would plummet. The question is: How do we get there from here? Andrew Bernstein offered one possibility in “The Educational Bonanza in Privatizing Government Schools” (TOS, Winter 2010-11): Sell government schools to the highest bidders, who would take them over following a transitional period to “enable government-dependent families to adjust to the free market.” This approach has the virtues of simplicity and speed, but also the complication of requiring widespread recognition of the propriety of a fully private educational system—a recognition that may not exist in America for quite some time.
  • Topic: Economics, Education, Government
  • Political Geography: America
  • Author: Dan Norton
  • Publication Date: 03-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Objective Standard
  • Institution: The Objective Standard
  • Abstract: Eleven years ago, toward the end of my undergraduate years as a philosophy major at the University of Virginia, I was feeling dissatisfied with my knowledge of history. I had taken several history courses but wanted more. Because my immediate interest was ancient Greece, I decided to try a friend's recommendation, The Life of Greece by Will Durant. Finding the book at the library, I was surprised to see that it was but one volume in a massive series called The Story of Civilization—eleven substantial volumes spanning two feet of shelving.1 Although I wanted to learn more about history, I wasn't sure I wanted to learn that much. It turned out that I did. Reading those volumes—sometimes poring over large portions of them multiple times—would be one of the most enlightening and enjoyable experiences of my life. First published between 1935 and 1975, The Story of Civilization is a work of great and enduring value. Exceptional for its masterful prose as well as its size and scope, the Story is a powerful combination of style and substance. An author of rare literary talents, Durant (1885–1981) won a wide readership through his ability to make history intriguing, lively, and dramatic. His volumes, intended for the general reader and each designed to be readable apart from the others, have sold millions of copies. Some even became best sellers, and the tenth volume, Rousseau and Revolution, won a Pulitzer Prize. Individual volumes have been translated into more than twenty languages.2 Having earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1917 from Columbia University, Durant first won fame and phenomenal success with The Story of Philosophy (1926). This book sold two million copies in a few years and has sold three million copies to date; eighty-five years later, the book is still in print and has been translated into nineteen languages.3 Durant followed this book with another best seller, The Mansions of Philosophy (1929).4 His earnings from these and other books, as well as from articles and public lectures, helped free his time for writing The Story of Civilization, which would be his magnum opus. His wife, Ariel Durant (1898–1981), assisted him throughout his writing of the Story, her assistance increasing to the point that, beginning with the seventh volume, she received credit as coauthor.5 The Story of Civilization begins with Our Oriental Heritage, a volume on Egypt and Asiatic civilizations. The remaining ten volumes tell the story of Western civilization (with a substantial treatment of Islamic civilization in one of the volumes6). Durant's original intention was to tell the story of the West up to the present, but, despite working on the Story for more than four decades, he was unable to do so: “[A]s the story came closer to our own times and interests it presented an ever greater number of personalities and events still vitally influential today; and these demanded no mere lifeless chronicle, but a humanizing visualization which in turn demanded space” (vol. 7, p. vii). The increasing space he gave to each period of European history resulted in his having to end the Story with the downfall of Napoleon in 1815; moreover, he had to omit the history of the Americas entirely. He was ninety when the Story's last volume was published and had carried it as far as he could. In each volume Durant takes a comprehensive approach, covering, for each nation and in each period of its history, all the major aspects of civilization: politics, economics, philosophy, religion, literature, art, and science.7 He called his approach the “integral” or “synthetic” method, and regarded it as an original contribution to historiography.8 Elaborating on the origin of his method, he writes: I had expounded the idea in 1917 in a paper . . . “On the Writing of History.” . . . Its thesis: whereas economic life, politics, religion, morals and manners, science, philosophy, literature, and art had all moved contemporaneously, and in mutual influence, in each epoch of each civilization, historians had recorded each aspect in almost complete separation from the rest. . . . So I cried, “Hold, enough!” to what I later termed “shredded history,” and called for an “integral history” in which all the phases of human activity would be presented in one complex narrative, in one developing, moving, picture. I did not, of course, propose a cloture on lineal and vertical history (tracing the course of one element in civilization), nor on brochure history (reporting original research on some limited subject or event), but I thought that these had been overdone, and that the education of mankind required a new type of historian—not quite like Gibbon, or Macaulay, or Ranke, who had given nearly all their attention to politics, religion, and war, but rather like Voltaire, who, in his Siècle de Louis XIV and his Essai sur les moeurs, had occasionally left the court, the church, and the camp to consider and record morals, literature, philosophy, and art.9 Durant's integral history does not only occasionally consider these latter areas (which he calls “cultural history” or “the history of the mind,”)10 it emphasizes them. “While recognizing the importance of government and statesmanship, we have given the political history of each period and state as the oft-told background, rather than the substance or essence of the tale; our chief interest was in the history of the mind” (vol. 10, p. vii). (Nevertheless, the Story contains ample and excellent material on politics.) The Story is by far the most massive and thorough treatment of Western civilization by a single author (or team of two) that I have been able to find. Large teams of historians have collaborated to produce similarly large, or even larger, works. But such works, writes a respected historian, “while they gain substantially in authoritative character, are seriously lacking in correlation and are not written from a . . . harmonious point of view.”11 Harmony is indeed one of the cardinal virtues of Durant's work; readers find therein a beautifully integrated tale of man's past, a veritable symphony of history. For this reason and others—notably, Durant's grand, philosophical overviews and scintillating style—I believe that many, and perhaps most, readers will find no better place to turn for a large treatment of Western civilization than The Story of Civilization. . . .
  • Topic: Government, History
  • Political Geography: America, Europe