Recently, Amsterdam’s city council forbade the use of the locution “Ladies and Gentlemen” within its halls and precincts. This was not in the interests of strict accuracy: Many women, after all, are not ladies, and many men are not gentlemen. Rather, it was to avoid upsetting those who considered themselves neither male nor female, or considered themselves both.
Needless to say, no evidence that the locution caused any widespread distress, let alone harm, needed to be adduced. The prohibition was an exercise in power not an expression of sensitivity. It was a Lilliputian step in the creation of a vast empire of virtue, or supposed virtue, in which the rulers will enjoy simultaneously the awareness of their own goodness and the pleasures of bullying others.
The attacks in Paris have left EU-elites remarkably unwavered in their beliefs. Jean-Claude Juncker stated on Sunday that there was no need to change the EU’s immigration agenda, while Guy Verhofstadt argued for ‘a common anti-terrorism capacity’ and even ‘a European CIA’. This absence of self-doubt pairs with a call for ‘more Europe’ in the face of clear policy failure.
It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said: “Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone but principally by catchwords.” Refining our thoughts with qualifications can get tiring, so we recur to slogans to capture a reality that is almost always complex.
Alas, what should be the shorthand of thought often turns out to be the short-circuit of thought. When we think of Margaret Thatcher, for example, we think of free-market reforms—whether we are for such reforms or against them, whether we welcome or abominate them.
Is this right? Was Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy one of free markets, of laissez-faire? I am far from sure.
One of libertarianism’s more admirable traits is its spiritedness, a welcome addition in a grey world. My blogging colleague Mike Rappaport adds thoughtfulness to spiritedness in his various elaborations on libertarianism. Lately he has asked what a libertarian immigration policy might be and has responded to Michael Lind’s provocation that there are no libertarian countries.
Mike’s responses raise questions fundamental to the adequacy of libertarian thinking. I speculate that a kind of universalism originating in the Declaration of Independence underlies his thinking, but that a decisive Lincolnian correction is needed.
Of the riotous 1960s, it has been said, if you can remember them, you weren’t there. The same cannot be said of the several ensuing, more sober decades, especially if you were at all well disposed to the free market and limited government. For it was during the twentieth century’s final quarter that these ideals staged a dramatic comeback, after a long period of eclipse in America during which there had been ever-increasing governmental regulation of the economy and dispensation of welfare.
That resurgence of free-market ideas was capped off towards the century’s end by the spectacular triumph of American capitalism over Soviet communism. Increasing numbers swiftly began to learn to stand on their own feet economically-speaking and to accept that, in the words of one of capitalism’s most exuberant champions, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Rounding off the apparent victory of free-market ideals over collectivism was the major retrenchment of public welfare in America achieved through the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.
The bibliographies of few books cite more Liberty Fund publications than does Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: A Counter-History from the Glorious Revolution to the First World War. It cites works published by Liberty Fund of no fewer than eleven authors and these do not include Hayek, Locke, Macaulay, Mill or Tocqueville whose works in other editions are cited. . Despite its focus, few accounts of the classical liberal tradition are more scathing or unrelenting in their criticism of it than Losurdo’s. By way of illustration, consider his treatment of John Calhoun, the mid-nineteenth century senator and statesman from South Carolina. The Italian…