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E-Pluribus | May 2, 2022
Recommitting to first principles, the uncancellable Karl Marx, and the Biden administration sets its sights on disinformation.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Tunku Varadarajan: America Needs a Return to First Principles
The one thing most politically and culturally involved people seem to agree on these days is that in one way or another, America has lost its way. At The Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajan, echoing a recently released scholarly paper from the Hoover Institution, writes that the country needs a return to some foundational “first principles—… private property rights, the rule of law, free and competitive markets, and limited government.”
Those foundations—Mr. Cogan’s first principles—are private property rights, the rule of law, free and competitive markets, and limited government. The last includes “subsidiarity,” meaning that no central authority should do what can be done by a more local body, and no public institution should do what can be left to private enterprise.
“When you think about what drives America’s GDP,” Mr. Cogan says, “it’s millions of individuals working, investing, saving and making allocative decisions with these microfoundations in place.”
The pair aim to stir debate and perhaps shape policy platforms before the next presidential campaign: “We are far enough from campaigning,” Mr. Warsh says, “for it to be an incubator, a laboratory, of the next ideas that can motivate a series of candidates.” He insists it isn’t merely a “messaging exercise” but an attempt to “make relevant and resonant the lessons of history and apply them to the challenges of today.”
Mr. Cogan says the paper is aimed at “one, the general American public; two, informed citizens; and three, policy makers. I guess I’d put them in that order.” Mr. Warsh adds that they’re “trying to distill a whole lot of intellectual history and make it accessible. If we can’t convince the man on the street, then good luck convincing the man in Washington.”
The authors identify as the “sine qua non” of American prosperity the “three I’s”—ideas, individuals and institutions—as they put it in our conversation by Zoom. (Mr. Cogan speaks from his house in Portola Valley, Calif., Mr. Warsh from his apartment in Manhattan.) Their paper states that “a sound economic governance framework liberates the individual, encourages the promulgation of new ideas, and ensures the proper functioning of institutions.” A policy that offends any of these elements—by restricting the individual, stifling ideas or letting institutions stray beyond their proper limits—is likely to harm the economy.
Read it all here.
Andrew Sullivan: When Will They Cancel Karl Marx?
Among the host of luminaries of the past, famous and infamous, whose cancellations have been floated by the “woke left,” Andrew Sullivan says Karl Marx is conspicuously exempt. The apparent value of Marx’s socialist/anti-capitalist ideas for the left continue to outweigh any inconvenient views on race and nationalism that Marx also freely espoused.
[W]hat makes this illiberalism even more repellent is how selective it is. For a few generations now, critical race theorists have attempted to cancel one Enlightenment thinker after another, excoriating Thomas Jefferson as a bigot and hypocrite, David Hume as a vicious racist, Immanuel Kant of all people for white supremacism. The Age of Reason has been recast as the Era of Hate.
In his new book, The War on the West, Douglas Murray quotes Black Studies professor Kehinde Andrews explaining the rationale for this: “A defense of liberalism is the worst possible thing you want to do. Because liberalism is the problem. It is the Enlightenment values which really cement racial prejudice.” The notion here is that human beings had no tribal, racial prejudices until the Age of Reason dawned. Racial hatred was invented by and is the exclusive property of white people in the last few hundred years. Seriously, that’s what the woke believe.
The attacks on Hume, Jefferson and Kant, moreover, refer to single sentences or asides that represent some of the lazy bigotries of the past. (The entire works of Aristotle and Plato are also on the chopping block because of their retrograde views on slavery, among other things.) And so one wonders if the same standard would apply to every philosopher in the past — way beyond the Enlightenment.
[ . . . ]
The lesson I draw from all this is a pretty simple one: Marx’s work deserves study today because of a handful of insights and Marxism’s uniquely murderous role in human history. But if you are going to cancel a thinker for bigotry by today’s standards, Marx is far more cancelable on leftist grounds than any of the Enlightenment figures under assault.
And yet he remains a core source for the woke worldview, after being strained through the nihilism of postmodern thought and repackaged for American undergrads. Marx, in fact, is the most assigned economist in college. Among the top schools, The Communist Manifesto is the third-most taught book in history, and first in sociology. The NYT, for his bicentennial on May 5, 2018, ran an op-ed titled, “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” — right because “educated liberal opinion is today more or less unanimous in its agreement [over] Marx’s basic thesis — that capitalism is driven by a deeply divisive class struggle. … Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, owe something of an unspoken debt to Marx.” And that’s a good thing!
Read the whole thing.
Joe Lancaster: New DHS Board Seeks To Counter What It Thinks Is Disinformation
The revelation of the Biden administration’s creation of a Disinformation Governance Board has unleashed a thousand Orwell comparisons (and at least one Harry Potter (?!) take.) Given the tendency of federal government initiatives to outlive their original stated, limited mandates, it is understandable that Joe Lancaster at Reason is highly skeptical.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Wednesday that it had formed a new board meant to counter disinformation. According to the Associated Press, the so-called Disinformation Governance Board will focus, in part, on Russian disinformation campaigns.
The board will be headed by Nina Jankowicz, a Wilson Center fellow who studies disinformation and technology. In the past, Jankowicz has advocated for an anti-disinformation agency in testimony before the House's Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Regarding social media companies, she said that she "would like to empower a new oversight body to make sure that there is transparency and that the platforms are doing their due diligence by their users."
But a government entity tasked with policing incorrect information online is both unlikely to succeed and also a potential threat to free speech.
[ . . . ]
So far, there is very little information regarding the board's methods or mission: DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has given no specific details, and there is so far no mention of the board on the DHS website. On Thursday, Sen. Rob Portman (R–Ohio) issued a statement that he was "deeply concerned" about the board: "I do not believe that the United States government should turn the tools that we have used to assist our allies counter foreign adversaries onto the American people. Our focus should be on bad actors like Russia and China, not our own citizens."
Read it all.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education takes on the University of North Texas:
Glenn Greenwald on the our-billionaires-are-better-than-your-billionaires mentality that is evident in the Elon Musk/Twitter kerfuffle:
And finally, via The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism, Michael Shermer on the real test of a commitment to free speech: