Friday, August 31, 2007

Calling your tongue your own

John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon

Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech: Which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it he does not hurt and controul the Right of another; and this is the only Check which it ought to suffer, the only Bounds which it ought to know.

This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Government, that the Security of Property; and the Freedom of Speech, always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of the Nation, must begin by subduing the Freedom of Speech; a Thing terrible to publick Traytors...

Freedom of Speech is the great Bulwark of Liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the Terror of Traytors and Oppressors, and a Barrier against them. It produces excellent Writers, and encourages Men of fine Genius. Tacitus tells us, that the Roman Commonwealth bred great and numerous Authors, who writ with equal Boldness and Eloquence: But when it was enslaved, those great Wits were no more... Tyranny had usurped the Place of Equality, which is the Soul of liberty, and destroyed publick Courage. The Minds of Men, terrified by unjust Power, degenerated into all the Vilenes[s] and Methods of Servitude: Abject Sycophancy and blind Submission grew the only means of Preferment, and indeed of Safety; Men durst not open their Mouths, but to flatter...

All Ministers, therefore, who were Oppressors, or intended to be Oppressors, have been loud in their Complaints against Freedom of Speech, and the Licence of the Press; and always restrained, or endeavoured to restrain, both. In consequence of this, they have brow-beaten Writers, punished them violently, and against Law, and burnt their Works. By all which they shewed how much truth alarmed them, and how much they were at Enmity with Truth.

     John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon
     Cato Letter Number 15
Reprinted in: Jacobson - The English Libertarian Heritage, pp 38-42

Two thoughts come to mind reading this passage again.

First, I hope the reader appreciates the value of the 14th Amendment. Before the American civil war, free speech was not protected by the laws of some southern states. The 14th Amendment extended the federal prohibition on laws violating natural rights to the states, including the right to free speech. Before, there was little hope that slavery would be outlawed by the states through the political process since people could be prosecuted for distributing literature that argued for emancipation, as I understand it. See Michael Kent Curtis's excellent book, Free Speech, "The People's Darling Privilege".

Second, I believe we need to reconsider libel law. In my experience, it is the weak who dare not speak out against the strong, and the strong who speak out against the weak with impunity. The poor are already used to hearing character assassination and girding themselves with integrity. Best let the marketplace of integrity to sort out spoken and written accusations. Sometimes the most effective non-violent weapon a weak person has is mere witness shared. Recently cases of libel tourism bring this issue to the fore, making this an issue of federal security. How is one to wage a civilized campaign of truth-seeking if libel law exists? Perhaps we could live with laws against fraud, say by prohibiting people from accusing others by falsely dragging in non-existent public records or non-existent accusations of others and leave it at that. What do you think?

Update (Nov 20, 2007):
More on libel tourism in this video and article about Rachel Ehrenfeld at Reason's Rough Cut video blog. I have a copy of her book Funding Evil despite the United Kingdom and Khalid bin Mahfouz. Thankfully we had a revolution in 1776.

According to an added screen at the end of the documentary,
On November 15th, 2007, a New York court heard oral argument on whether it has jurisdiction over Mahfouz in Dr. Ehrenfeld's case.
Back in the day, Great Britain had valiant juries that judged the law when it conflicted with basic human rights, as in the case of William Penn. We too had our own decent juries in the time of John Peter Zenger and his famous libel trial in 1735. May the spirit of these struggles for free speech return.

Another valuable book which fireman Mahfouz has thrown on the Fahrenheit 451 burning pile is Alms for Jihad, a copy of which I have seen, but don't tell anyone.

Update (May 5, 2008):
Foreign Law and the First Amendment by Floyd Abrams - The Wall St. Journal provides the big picture on libel tourism and what makes the United States of America different, increasingly so I hope. New York remembers Lady Liberty and how liberty strengthens security. There is now a federal effort - HR 5814.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thomas Jefferson and the Barbarian Invasions

Thomas Jefferson

I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they now do, on oatmeal and potatoes; have no time to think, no means of calling the mismanagers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow sufferers. Our land-holders, too, like theirs, retaining in deed the title and stewardship of estates called theirs, but held really in trust for the treasury, must wander, like theirs, in foreign countries, and be contented with penury, obscurity, exile, and the glory of the nation. This example reads to us the salutary lesson, that private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as by private extravagance. And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.
      Thomas Jefferson - Letter to Samuel Kercheval, 12 July 1816
In: Lipscomb [1905, ed.] - Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. XVI, pp. 39-40. Image from frontispiece.
See also: Peterson [1984, ed.] - Thomas Jefferson: Writings, pp 1400-1401

David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, speaks alarmingly in this recent video.

Hat tip: Daily Paul

Here's an interview of Walker on BBC last year. Walker states,
Here's the key. The fact is that today we do not face a crisis. We do not face an imminent crisis. At the same point in time, the longer we wait, the larger the gap will be, the more dramatic the change will have to be, and the less time we will have to transition. (3:15-3:33)

In my 20s, I felt angry and disappointed in the older generation. Their great economist John Maynard Keynes had said, "in the long run we're all dead." I felt quite alive, thank you very much, along with most of my cohort. We were still alive and faced with the untoward consequences of the older generation's dalliances with socialism. My feelings of generational estrangement are best captured in the 2003 quebec film Les Invasions Barbares. You can't help loving the codgers, but their ideas proved so pernicious, as exemplified in the film by the chaos abounding in the government-dominated hospital. If I felt that in my 20s, 20 years ago, how much more might young people feel it now?

20 years ago... in the summer of 1987, I was in Paris and read Friedrich Hayek's book The Road to Serfdom. Hayek argues that the mild socialists, quite unintentionally initially, pave the way for the more horrific totalitarians by centralizing a vast array of improper powers, over which the squabbling becomes more intense and confused.

As Jefferson wrote, "We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude."

In 1988 I voted for Ron Paul.

In 2008 I plan to again.

This time I have more company.

To the older generation, we must seem like invading barbarians. Whereas we see ourselves as the civilized ones; representing free-market liberalism; defending the Declaration of Independence, natural rights, and the Constitution; and enlightening the world.

Version 1.1.2