Monday, 23 February 2015

Open letter to Ron Paul: Reclaim Mises and true liberalism

This open letter to Ron Paul written by three Students for Liberty campus coordinators has got tongues wagging, because it points out uncomfortable truths apparent to young freedom lovers that older ones have brushed under the rug --- i.e., racism and bigotry in the writings of Ron Paul and other libertarians, including an Institute using the name of Ludwig Von Mises advocating some ideas Mises himself would find repugnant.1 Issues that must be addressed, they say, as “we sit here on the verge of a changing libertarian movement.

Dear Dr. Ron Paul,

We would like to preface this letter by pointing out it is written with the utmost respect and appreciation for all you have done to contribute to the freedom philosophy and human liberty. However, as principled supporters of liberty, we find your appearance at the International Students For Liberty Conference troubling for a few reasons. Most of which relate to your past and current associations with certain individuals and organizations that we find un-libertarian.

We believe many of the people you have aligned yourself with and continue to align yourself with are libertarians only in name and their true ideology is one more akin to a bigoted and authoritarian paleo-conservatism. Your appearance at Mises Circle in Houston, Texas just a few weeks ago is a prime example of this.

The prevalence of an age gap in the libertarian movement has been underscored by the ideas discussed in conferences such as the Mises Circle and put forth by the Mises Institute itself. “Millennial” or “Second-wave” libertarianism is not going away and there seems to be irreconcilable differences between these new libertarians and the old guard, which includes figures such as Lew Rockwell, Hans Herman-Hoppe, Walter Block, Gary North, and yourself. In this letter, we would like to highlight the downright absurdity promoted by this obsolete style of thinking, as delineated in the racist, homophobic, and sexist undertones present in these thinkers’ writings.

The themes of bigotry at the Mises Circle and in many of your colleague’s writings are obvious. At the Mises Circle, Lew Rockwell, founder and chairman of the Mises Institute, compared the life of people under modern nation states to literal chattel slavery. We admit the state is a gang of thieves writ large. But this analogy is downright offensive to people have suffered actual chattel slavery as well as people who have relatively great living standards under modern states. Libertarians can expose the evils of statism without resorting to bad metaphors with blatantly obvious racist undertones.

Hans Herman-Hoppe, distinguished fellow of the Mises Institute, wrote just last year that,
       “it is societies dominated by white heterosexual males, and in particular by the most successful
        among them, which have produced and accumulated the greatest amount of capital goods and achieved
         the highest average living standards.”
Hoppe has also advocated violence against homosexuals and other people who live lifestyles he doesn’t approve of,
     “There can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal.
         They-the advocates of alternative, non-family-centred lifestyles such as, for instance, individual
         hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism-will have to
        be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.” 
The racist and homophobic themes in these passages speak for themselves.

Walter Block, senior fellow at the Mises Institute, has argued, “Feminists and gays aren’t libertarians.” Also on the topic of homosexuals, Block has written,
        “If a seventeen year old is an adult, and voluntarily wants to have sex with an adult homosexual man,
        I may not like it. I may be revolted by it.”
If that wasn’t clear enough, Block has made his bigoted views explicit,
        “I am a cultural conservative. This means that I abhor homosexuality, bestiality, and sadomasochism,
        as well as pimping, prostituting, drugging, and other such degenerate behaviour.”
In addition, he has put forth the idea that “lower black IQs” could explain productivity differences between blacks and whites. Again, the arguments speak for themselves.

Gary North, an associated scholar at the Mises Institute, is an outspoken Christian Reconstructionist and supporter of biblical theocracy. North advocates capital punishment by means of stoning for women who lie about their virginity, blasphemers, nonbelievers, children who curse their parents, male homosexuals, and other people who commit acts deemed capital offense in the Old Testament. These views are certainly not representative of the libertarianism we’ve come to know and love.

And then there’s you. The now infamous newsletters that had your signature several years ago contained rhetoric referring to people of colour as “animals”, asserted that homosexuals with HIV “enjoy the pity and attention that comes with being sick,” and went so far as to sanction anti-semitic views.

When questioned about these newsletters in 1996, you told the Dallas Morning News,2
        “Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can
        safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”

You didn’t dispute the newsletters and you certainly never condemned this: “If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be,” which appeared along with your signature.

Bigoted subtext has consistently been condoned by so-called “pro-liberty” individuals; a contradiction of the most offensive degree. Liberty cannot exist if individuals of any group are viewed as inferior, whether it is outright, or merely in the connotations of an argument. Suppression means the absence of liberty; something the founding fathers of Libertarianism built up a wealth of rhetoric against. Hypocrisy to this extent cannot be permitted any longer in the libertarian movement.

In Ludwig von Mises’ classic work, Liberalism, he identified tolerance as a fundamental value of a free society, “Liberalism demands tolerance as a matter of principle, not from opportunism. It demands toleration even of obviously nonsensical teachings, absurd forms of heterodoxy, and childishly silly superstitions. It demands toleration for doctrines and opinions that it deems detrimental and ruinous to society and even for movements that it indefatigably combats. For what impels liberalism to demand and accord toleration is not consideration for the content of the doctrine to be tolerated, but the knowledge that only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace without which humanity must relapse into the barbarism and penury of centuries long past.”

This isn’t about guilt by association. It’s about condemning evil, illiberal ideas and being clear about your principles. You continue to hide behind your prestige, refusing to admit this intolerance exists, although it was your name signed on the papers, and you who allowed this bigoted mentality to perpetuate by being closely associated with the Mises Institute. As the icon of the libertarian movement, you have a duty to eliminate this intolerance, not sit back and let it destroy the cause you helped create.

Do you think the Ludwig von Mises Institute has really embraced its namesake’s crucial insight here?  Do you think you have? If not, then tell us. Condemn all forms of bigotry and intolerance as un-libertarian. Denounce these connections and the ideas of sexism, homophobia, and racism that have infected the Mises Institute and by extension the libertarian movement. Reclaim Mises and true liberalism. If libertarianism is to advance in the coming century, we must continue to build a community of peace, acceptance, and tolerance and whether you like it or not, it starts with you.

Sincerely and For Liberty and Tolerance,
Aarón Shelby Baca, Mackenzie Holst, and Cory Massimino

These three youngsters are asking the questions their oldsters should have been asking before them.

For my part, since I regularly recommend that readers head to the Mises Institute for rational writing in economics, I share Baca’s, Holst’s and Massimo’s serious reservations about their non-economic writing.

That is to say that when the economists of the Mises Institute write about economics, using the insights of the Austrian tradition of economics, there are few better – as last year’s much-needed Bailout Reader should demonstrate. When the Institute’s economists write outside their field however, they are universally awful. Specifically, they are awful on intellectual property, on foreign policy, on religion, on anarchy, and on how the South will rise again.  (On morning drinking, of course, they’re fundamentally sound.)
    And they’re not just awful: their writings on these subjects are in opposition to Ludwig von Mises’s own writings on these subjects – or the first four subjects, anyway.  So as a “Mises Institute” it’s only on economics (and morning drinking) they can be taken seriously on “what Mises would have said.”
    Just thought you should know. In my view, for all their heroic work in resuscitating
the economic thoughts and writing of Ludwig von Mises and his colleagues in the Austrian tradition, the Mises Institute should more accurately be re-named the Rothbard Institute, with all that implies.

Perhaps the problem comes from the notion that you can sever libertarianism and economics from philosophy itself, something Ayn Rand warned against. Here, for example, in 1946, discussing Leonard Read’s new organisation, the Foundation for Economic Education:

"The great mistake here is in assuming that economics is a science which can be isolated from moral, philosophical and political principles, and considered as a subject in itself, without relation to them. It can't be done.
The best example of that is Von Mises' book Omnipotent Government. That is precisely what he attempted to do, in a very objective, conscientious, scholarly way. And he failed dismally, even though his economic facts and conclusions were for the most part unimpeachable. He failed to present a convincing case because at the crucial points, where his economics came to touch upon moral issues (as all economics must), he went into thin air, into contradictions, into nonsense. He did prove, all right, that collectivist economics don't work. And he failed to convert a single collectivist.
The organisation desperately needed at present is one for EDUCATION IN INDIVIDUALISM, in every aspect of it: philosophical, moral, political, economic—in that order. (That is the actual order in which men's thinking proceeds on these subjects.) As part of such a program, an education in sound economics would be essential and valuable. Without it, it is a wasted effort.

True that.

1. Hat tip to and loan of much this description from Keith Weiner.
2. Actually, the quotes are from Paul’s newsletters, but he didn’t dispute the newsletters and certainly never condemned them.


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