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Why the Holocaust Should Matter to You by Jeffrey Tucker

People tour the nation’s capital to be delighted by symbols of America’s greatness and history. They seek out monuments and museums that pay tribute to the nation state and its works. They want to think about the epic struggles of the past, and how mighty leaders confronted and vanquished enemies at home and abroad.

But what if there was a monument that took a different tack? Instead of celebrating power, it counseled against its abuses. Instead of celebrating the state and its works, it showed how these can become ruses to deceive and destroy. Instead of celebrating nationalist songs, symbols, and stories, it warned that these can be used as tools of division and oppression.

What if this museum was dedicated to memorializing one of history’s most ghastly experiments in imperial conquest, demographic expulsion, and eventual extermination, to help us understand it and never repeat it?

Such a museum does exist. It is the US Holocaust Museum. It is the Beltway’s most libertarian institution, a living rebuke to the worship of power as an end in itself.

I lived in Washington, DC, when the Holocaust Museum was being built, and I vaguely recall when it opened. I never went, though I had the opportunity; I remember having a feeling of dread about the prospect of visiting it. Many people must feel the same way. Surely we already know that mass murder by the state is evil and wrong. Do we really need to visit a museum on such a ghastly subject?

The answer is yes. This institution is a mighty tribute to human rights and human dignity. It provides an intellectual experience more moving and profound than any I can recall having. It takes politics and ideas out of the realm of theory and firmly plants them in real life, in our own history. It shows the consequences of bad ideas in the hands of evil men, and invites you to experience the step-by-step descent into hell in chronological stages.

The transformation the visitor feels is intellectual but also even physical: as you approach the halfway point you notice an increase in your heart rate and even a pit in your stomach.

Misconceptions

Let’s dispel a few myths that people who haven’t visited might have about the place.

  • The museum is not maudlin or manipulative. The narrative it takes you through is fact-based, focused on documentation (film and images), with a text that provides a careful chronology. One might even say it is a bit too dry, too merely factual. But the drama emerges from the contrast between the events and the calm narration.
  • It is not solely focused on the Jewish victims; indeed, all victims of the National Socialism are discussed, such as the Catholics in Poland. But the history of Jewish persecution is also given great depth and perspective. It is mind boggling to consider how a regime that used antisemitism to manipulate the public and gain power ended up dominating most of Europe and conducting an extermination campaign designed to wipe out an entire people.
  • The theme of the museum is not that the Holocaust was an inexplicable curse that mysteriously descended on one people at one time; rather the museum attempts to articulate and explain the actual reasons — the motives and ideology — behind the events, beginning with bad ideas that were only later realized in action when conditions made them possible.
  • The narrative does not attempt to convince the visitor that the Holocaust was plotted from the beginning of Nazi rule; in fact, you discover a very different story. The visitor sees how bad ideas (demographic central planning; scapegoating of minorities; the demonization of others) festered, leading to ever worsening results: boycotts of Jewish-owned business, racial pogroms, legal restrictions on property and religion, internments, ghettoization, concentration camps, killings, and finally a carefully constructed and industrialized machinery of mass death.
  • The museum does not isolate Germans as solely or uniformly guilty. Tribute is given to the German people, dissenters, and others who also fell victim to Hitler’s regime. As for moral culpability, it unequivocally belongs to the Nazis and their compliant supporters in Germany and throughout Europe. But the free world also bears responsibility for shutting its borders to refugees, trapping Jews in a prison state and, eventually, execution chamber.
  • The presentation is not rooted in sadness and despair; indeed, the museum tells of heroic efforts to save people from disaster and the resilience of the Jewish people in the face of annihilation. Even the existence of the museum is a tribute to hope because it conveys the conviction that we can learn from history and act in a way that never repeats this terrible past.

The Deeper Roots of the Holocaust

For the last six months, I’ve been steeped in studying and writing about the American experience with eugenics, the “policy science” of creating a master race. The more I’ve read, the more alarmed I’ve become that it was ever a thing, but it was all the rage in the Progressive Era. Eugenics was not a fringe movement; it was at the core of ruling-class politics, education, and culture. It was responsible for many of the early experiments in labor regulation. It was the driving force behind marriage licenses, minimum wages, restrictions on opportunities for women, and immigration quotas and controls.

The more I’ve looked into the subject, the more I’m convinced that it is not possible fully to understand the birth of the 20th century Leviathan without an awareness of eugenics. Eugenics was the original sin of the modern state that knows no limits to its power.

Once a regime decides that it must control human reproduction — to mold the population according to a central plan and divide human beings into those fit to thrive and those deserving extinction — you have the beginning of the end of freedom and civilization. The prophets of eugenics loathed the Jews, but also any peoples that they deemed dangerous to those they considered worthy of propagation. And the means they chose to realize their plans was top-down force.

So far in my reading on the subject, I’ve studied the origin of eugenics until the late 1920s, mostly in the US and the UK. And so, touring the Holocaust Museum was a revelation. It finally dawned on me: what happened in Germany was the extension and intensification of the same core ideas that were preached in the classrooms at Yale, Harvard, and Princeton decades earlier.

Eugenics didn’t go away. It just took on a more violent and vicious form in different political hands. Without meaningful checks on state power, people with eugenic ambitions can find themselves lording over a terror state. It was never realized in the United States, but it happened elsewhere. The stuffy academic conferences of the 1910s, the mutton-chopped faces of the respected professorial class, mutated in one generation to become the camps and commandants of the Nazi killing machine. The distance between eugenics and genocide, from Boston to Buchenwald, is not so great.

There are moments in the tour when this connection is made explicit, as when it is explained how, prior to the Nazis, the United States had set the record for forced sterilizations; how Hitler cited the US case for state planning of human reproduction; how the Nazis were obsessed with racial classification and used American texts on genetics and race as a starting point.

And think of this: when Progressive Era elites began to speak this way, to segment the population according to quality, and to urge policies to prevent “mongrelization,” there was no “slippery slope” to which opponents could point. This whole approach to managing the social order was unprecedented, and so a historical trajectory was pure conjecture. They could not say “Remember! Remember where this leads!”

Now we have exactly that history, and a moral obligation to point to it and learn from it.

What Can We Learn?

My primary takeaway from knitting this history together and observing its horrifying outcome is this: that any ideology, movement, or demagogue that dismisses universal human rights, that disparages the dignity of any person based on group characteristics, that attempts to segment the population into the fit and unfit, or in any way seeks to use the power of the state to put down some in order to uplift others, is courting outcomes that are dangerous to the whole of humanity. It might not happen immediately, but, over time, such rhetoric can lay the foundations for the machinery of death.

And there is also another, perhaps more important lesson: bad ideas have a social and political momentum all their own, regardless of anyone’s initial intentions. If you are not aware of that, you can be led down, step by step, to a very earthly hell.

At the same time, the reverse is also true: good ideas have a momentum that can lead to the flourishing of peace, prosperity, and universal human dignity. It is up to all of us. We must choose wisely, and never forget.

Jeffrey A. TuckerJeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email.

Two-Thirds of Americans Believe Money Buys Elections by Daniel Bier

Everybody knows that money buys elections. That’s what opponents of theCitizens United decision have been ominously warning us for six years, and their message resonates. A CNN poll found that 67 percent of Americans think that “elections are generally for sale to the candidate who can raise the most money.”

The trouble is that there is very little evidence for this. Even though the candidate with the most money usually wins, the general rule is that moneychases winners rather than creates winners. People give to candidates they think are likely to win, and incumbents (who almost always win) and candidates in safe districts still raise money, even if they’re not challenged. On the flip side, donors and parties don’t waste support on long-shot races.

More importantly, money never guarantees any election. For instance, billionaire Meg Whitman spent $144 million of her own money on the California governor’s race; Jerry Brown spent just $36 million but crushed Whitman, 53 percent to 40 percent.

Mitt Romney, the GOP, and their PACs outspent Barack Obama and friends by over $120 million, and we know what came of that. Anthony Brown (D) outspent Larry Hogan (R) almost five to one in the 2014 Maryland governor’s race and lost, in a state that is two to one Democrat.

We can likely add Jeb Bush’s candidacy to this list. The Jeb! campaign and pro-Jeb groups have collectively raised $155 million. Only Hillary Clinton has raised more. According to the New York Times, he’s dominating “the money race” among Republicans.

But in the actual race, he got a dismal sixth place in Iowa, with 2.8 percent of the vote. Polls put Jeb fifth in New Hampshire and fifth nationally. Currently, Betfair places his odds of winning the nomination at 5.2 percent.

In fact, the whole Republican race shows that money can’t simply buy votes. Scott Walker raised $34 million in three months, spent all of it — and then dropped out, five months before Iowa. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has dominated news coverage and polls for months with only $19 million.

When you plot money vs. poll numbers, what jumps out is how little correlation there is:

… And money vs. Iowa caucus votes:

… And money vs. odds of winning the nomination:

Jeb and Jeb-PACs have spent $89.1 million so far and received 5,238 votes — over $17,000 per vote received. Trump has spent just $300 per vote.

This is not to say that money doesn’t matter — you can’t run a campaign without it, and campaign finance laws are designed to make it difficult for upstart challengers to become competitive. But after a certain amount (about $500,000 for a typical congressional race), there are rapidly diminishing returns, and dumping more money on a failing campaign will not save it.

There’s a lot of baseless fears about free speech, but the idea that the people with the most expensive microphone will always get their way is one of the easiest to disprove. More speech, more discussion, and more competition in the field of ideas is not what’s wrong with American politics — but they might be part of the solution to it.

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the editor of Anything Peaceful. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

Democracy Can’t Really Be Democratic by Ilya Somin

Recent debates over the meaning of “one person, one vote” and the lessons of ancient Greek democracy for the modern world highlight an important truth about democracy: it can’t be democratic all the way down.

Lincoln famously said that democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

But before “the people” can govern anything, someone has to decide who counts as a member of the people, what powers they have, and what rules they will vote under. And that someone usually turns out to be a small group of elites.

Just as the world can’t be held up by “turtles all the way down,” so a political system can’t be democratic all the way down.

The Elitism at the Heart of Democracy

The ongoing litigation over the meaning of “one person, one vote” illustrates these points well.

Before the voters can decide anything at the polls, someone has to decide which voters will get how many representatives, and under what electoral rules. And that someone will turn out to be some combination of the Supreme Court and state legislators, depending on how tightly the Court chooses to restrict the discretion of the latter.

State legislators are democratically elected, of course, which means the voters will have some influence over their decisions. But in this instance, the legislators are determining the very rules under which they will stand for election in the first place, which gives them ability to constrain the electorate, as well as vice versa.

Ironically, the meaning of a principle that many people regard as a core element of American democracy is going to be decided by a relatively small elite.

Ancient Athens also exemplified the elitism underpinning democracy. While the Athenian citizen assembly had very broad powers over public policy, the right to vote in that assembly was narrowly circumscribed in ways that excluded the bulk of the population of the city.

And, at least in the first instance, the decision to exclude these people was not made democratically. Once the system was established, of course, the male citizens who had the right to vote were far from eager to extend the franchise to women, slaves, or the city’s large population of “metics” (resident non-citizens).

Committed democrats might say that such elitism can be avoided. Perhaps the rules of democracy can also be determined by a democratic process. The people themselves can decide the rules of the political game. For example, the US Constitution — which establishes the basic rules of the American political system — was ratified by conventions elected by popular vote.

But this solution simply pushes the problem one step back.

Before “the people” can decide the rules of the game, someone has to decide the rules under which that decision itself will be made (including the rules determining who qualifies as a member of the people).

In the case of the Constitution, while the people did indeed elect representatives to the ratifying conventions, it was a small elite at the Philadelphia convention that drafted the Constitution, decided that it would come into force if nine of the then-thirteen states ratified it, and chose to ignore the provision of the Articles of Confederation that required unanimous consent by all thirteen states before any amendments come into force.

Had the Philadelphia Convention followed its original mandate (which was merely to propose revisions to the Articles) or respected the unanimity rule, American political history might have turned out differently.

The point is not that the Founding Fathers were necessarily wrong to make decisions they did. It is that the decision-making process they followed was not — and could not have been — democratic all the way down.

Before a democratic process can even begin to function, some nondemocratic process has to make the rules. And those rules will have a major impact on the choices available to “the people” once they finally begin to have a say.

Why it Matters

Does it matter that democracy can’t be democratic all the way down?

The answer depends in large part on your reasons for valuing democracy in the first place. Even if its basic rules are the product of a small elite, democracy might still be superior to other political systems for a host of possible reasons.

If your support for democracy is premised on purely consequentialist grounds (e.g. — that democracy maximizes social welfare), you might not care much about how the democratic process got set up in the first place.

But the elitism at the heart of democracy does impact a number of common arguments for giving broad power to voters and elected officials.

One of the standard rationales for the idea that we have a duty to obey democratically enacted laws is that, thanks to the right to vote, we have consented to them. But we haven’t had a meaningful opportunity to consent to the rules under which the vote occurred in the first place. Many of those rules were established influential elites, in often centuries before any of today’s voters were even born.

In the 2016 election, those of us who can vote will get to decide whether the Democrats or the Republicans will control the presidency and Congress. But we won’t get to decide many of the rules under which that vote takes place, or whether the president and Congress should have so much power in the first place.

For these reasons, among others, voting does not entail any genuine consent to the policies enacted by the winners. This calls into question consent-based justifications for a duty to obey democratically enacted laws, and even consent-based justifications for the legitimacy of the entire apparatus of democratic government.

Another standard rationale for democracy is that it gives everyone (or at least all citizens eligible to vote) an equal voice. But that equality is severely limited if the most important rules of the system were actually set by a small elite, often before “the people” were even defined, much less allowed to decide anything.

Elite determination of the rules of the democratic game might also affect purely consequentialist rationales for democracy. While consequentialists may not care about the origins of the rules for their own sake, they might have good reason to worry that the elites who make the rules will skew them in their own favor.

There are many historical examples of such shenanigans. To take just one example, the elites who drafted the US Constitution included the notorious Three-Fifths Clause, which gave extra representation in Congress to slaveowners by enabling them to count slaves as part of the population base determining the number of representatives a state had (without, of course, giving the slaves any say in the selection of those representatives).

The inevitability of elite control over at least some phases of the decision-making process makes this sort of problem difficult to avoid.

Democracy’s inability to be fully democratic doesn’t do much to strengthen the case for dictatorship or oligarchy. After all, these systems are generally even more coercive and inegalitarian, as well as more prone to a range of other pathologies.

But the superiority of democracy over these rival systems should not blind us to its own significant weaknesses, or to the case for imposing tight limits on the scope of democratic government.

The elitism at the heart of democracy is far from the only factor we should take into account in evaluating political systems. But it is an important issue to keep in mind. At the very least, it should make us more skeptical of claims that some policy is wise or just because it represents the democratically enacted “will of the people.”

Ilya Somin
Ilya Somin

Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law. He blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy.

EDITORS NOTE: This post first appeared at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Hypocrisy in the Democracy

After six years in office, I am amazed that Black folks continue to blindly follow the machinations of president Obama and his administration.  In less than eight years, Obama has radically changed the fabric of America more than all the other 43 previous presidents combined.

America is totally unrecognizable from the way it was eight years ago.

Eight years ago, Blacks had more net worth than they do today; more Blacks were in university eight years ago; more Blacks had jobs eight years ago; Blacks owned more homes eight years ago than they do today.

But Blacks did get the confederate flag taken down all across the country.

Homosexual marriage is now the law of the land.  Children are told they are no longer bound by the gender they were assigned at birth; but rather they can self-identify and choose from moment to moment how they want to be viewed.

George W. Bush did more for the Continent of Africa than the sum of all previous U.S. presidents only to have Obama reverse many of the programs Bush put in place.

But, did I mention that the confederate flag is no longer flying in South Carolina?

By every single metric, Blacks are far worse off now than we have been over the past fifty years.  Even the former head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, had to admit that Blacks are worse off under Obama than they were under Bush.

But did I mention that “Black lives matter?”

Obama’s foreign policies have weakened us as a nation.  No one respects us internationally.  Putin of Russia and Assad of Syria are current examples of foreign leaders who have no respect for America and Obama.  They dared Obama to stop their brutality towards their own citizens or their annexation of sovereign countries.

After six years of Obama, no one can define what it means to be American anymore.  You have a significant part of the population who cannot even speak English; some are even citizens.  How is that possible?

But “Black lives matter.”

Language is the DNA of a country.  Without a unifying language, you have no country.  States like California and Virginia print government documents in multiple languages because of those in the country who don’t speak English.  That is pure insanity.

Oh, but did I tell you “Black lives matter?”  Not all lives, just Black lives.

Black on Black crime is at epidemic levels in cities like Baltimore and Chicago and we are focusing on flags and slogans that mean absolutely nothing.

If Black lives really matter, why are we putting so much energy and time on superfluous issues?  What policies has this president promoted to prove that Black lives matter?  What policies have the members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) passed to prove that Black lives matter?

Not one member of the CBC has proposed any solutions to the pathologies of Baltimore or Chicago; but yet they spent a whole two weeks fighting over the confederate flag flying in South Carolina.

So, what’s going to happen when groups start demanding the removal of statues of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because he was deemed too controversial?  Blacks will scream bloody murder.

You just can’t say remove everything related to the confederacy from government property because “we don’t like it;” but yet defend your right to put people that you respect on the same government property.

King’s legacy is just as important as the legacy of the confederacy—they both are part of our history and the whole story must be told no matter how painful.

America may never recover from the disastrous effects of the Obama presidency.  He is not only the first “gay” president (according to Newsweek); but he is also the first president of the world because he has totally subjugated our sovereignty to that of international organizations and other countries via trade agreements.

So, as opposed to devoting time and attention to things that don’t matter, just maybe all the civil rights groups should focus on promoting a better environment for entrepreneurs to flourish; provide more school choice and vouchers for low income parents; and restore a values based curriculum in our public schools as opposed to teaching about homosexuality.

We have too many serious issues to deal with in America and within the Black community.  Time out for the sophomoric games and time to focus on the tangible solutions to the problems facing us; but I am not optimistic.

I guess it really is true that weak people take strong positions on weak issues.