[Today’s issue of the Tom Woods Letter — which you can subscribe to for free when you download my free eBook Your Facebook Friends Are Wrong About Guns.]
I have a new best friend: Osita Nwanevu, a “staff writer” at Slate.
Scrolling through Twitter today (follow me @ThomasEWoods, by the way), I encountered these two gems of his:
Wanted: An extension that replaces the phrase “classical liberal” in bios with the sentence “I believe in a caste system.”
Then this: Self-identifying as a classical liberal at this point means you’re a conventional right-winger who needs to convince people you read more than you do. You’re given to making defenses of aristocratic privilege & social dogmatism which, fun fact, liberalism was developed to attack.
I’ll admit: I’ve never cared for the term “classical liberal,” but unlike Osita Nwanevu, I actually know what it means. It’s a tradition of thought in favor of international peace, political and economic liberty, and natural rights.
It includes figures like John Locke and Adam Smith, but it also extends into the much more distant past in the Western tradition. Thus it includes the Levellers at the time of the English Civil War, the sixteenth-century Spanish Scholastics at the School of Salamanca, and even (if Fred Miller is to be believed) Aristotle, who advanced proto-liberal ideas even if he did not use the language of rights.
Let’s fast-forward to today and Osita Nwanevu, who says self-described classical liberals are “making defenses of aristocratic privilege & social dogmatism,” and that these are the very things the classical liberals railed against.
What “defenses of aristocratic privilege” Osita Nwanevu could have in mind aren’t exactly clear. Which legal privileges are his opponents working to enact in their favor today? Specifics, please.
The only legal privileges I know of run in exactly the opposite direction, whereby people perceived as belonging to victim groups receive special benefits when it comes to employment (fire me and you’ll be sued for “discrimination,” and don’t ask if I have a high school diploma because that, too, is probably veiled “discrimination”) and college admissions.
(I’ll believe the cries of “white privilege” as soon as black students start pretending to be white on their college applications, something nobody in his right mind would do.)
Civil service exams in some occupations had to be dumbed down to the point that 100 percent of test-takers passed them, in order for the exams not to be accused of discriminatory intent.
The examples are legion.
That outcomes differ between individuals and between groups is neither surprising nor sinister, and these days almost never (yes, that’s correct: almost never) implies anything sinister afoot. Control for education level, geographical location, and age, and virtually all differences disappear.
To call these differences evidence of a “caste system” is to interpret complex social phenomena through the lens of a 5-year-old, which is evidently sufficient to find employment as a “staff writer” at Slate.
Or if the market itself is supposed to be some kind of engine of oppression, how is it that the material condition of the poorest has improved at staggering levels all over the world as markets have been liberalized?
Oh, but there are big companies!
Yes. If the big companies are getting special privileges, remove them. If the companies are improving our lives, then hooray.
There’s always an extraordinary shortsightedness to these critiques. Amazon is hurting small businesses, say the critics. Well, sure, some firms can’t survive the competition.
But for heaven’s sake, the real story is that the Amazon platform has allowed countless used booksellers, small businesses, and individual entrepreneurs to stay in business and thrive! Hello?
As for “social dogmatism,” what is this dog’s breakfast of a term even supposed to mean?
I’d say it’s pretty dogmatic to force a permanent revolution on an unwilling population, making clear that the use of the wrong word, or the failure properly to celebrate the latest form of liberation, means destruction of someone’s livelihood and reputation.
I’d say it’s pretty dogmatic to demand that controversial speakers not be allowed to appear on campus, when you already have the entire academic establishment, the media, Hollywood, every corporate CEO, and most of the political class (even the “conservative” politicos, most of whom have been duly cowed) on your side.
One competing voice is too many?
That’s what social dogmatism looks like.
Not to mention this bit of progressive dogmatism: you must use your labor and your property in ways we approve of. Dissidents are “social dogmatists” who exist only to be steamrolled and machine-gunned by the forces of Progress.
Needless to say, there is nothing in the classical liberal tradition that requires people to bake cakes, or change their opinions on moral questions. As long as violence is not used, you may act and think as you like.
Now if Osita Nwanevu wanted to contribute something interesting, he could say that it’s particularly grotesque to see belligerent and incorrigible foreign interventionists and war cheerleaders like the execrable Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin claiming the classical liberal mantle.
But like all progressives, Osita Nwanevu is more at home with neoconservatives than he is with antiwar libertarians or traditional conservatives, so Boot and Rubin are invisible here — even though they’re practically the only people for whom Nwanevu’s critique might hold water.
Enough of this.
Find refuge from all the nuttiness out there in my private group, where you’ll find very smart, congenial folks.
(Cool people only, please.)
Your job: hover over this link and click: