The Spirit of Martin Luther King Day

On this day let’s keep in mind what Martin Luther King stood for:

“Identity politics is not a path to empowerment. There is no ‘unique voice of color’ or of women or of trans, gay, disabled, or fat people… Today’s social justice scholarship leads scholars and activists to deny the possibility of a universal human nature, which makes empathy between groups very difficult. This denial does not bode well for minority groups, and this view was not shared by Martin Luther King Jr., or by the liberal feminists and Gay Pride activists of the 1960s and 1970s. Their overall message was strongly (if imperfectly) liberal, individual, and universal, and it succeeded by appealing to empathy and fairness. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” said Dr. King, appealing to white Americans’ pride in their country as the Land of Opportunity and their sense of fairness, and making common cause with them in their hopes for the next generation. He called upon their empathy and stressed their shared humanity. Had he, like Robin D’Angelo, asked Americans to be “a little less white, which means a little less oppressive, oblivious, defensive, ignorant, and arrogant,” would this have had the same effect? We think not. An understanding of human nature is essential to any attempt to improve society… What is most frustrating about [woke] theory is that it tends to get literally every issue it’s primarily concerned with backwards, largely due to its rejection of human nature, science, and liberalism. It allots social significance to racial categories, which inflames racism.” (Cynical Theories, pp 257-258)

So let us:

  • Affirm that racism remains a problem in society and needs to be addressed.
  • Deny that Critical Race Theory provides the most useful tools to do so, since racial issues are best solved through the most rigorous analyses possible.
  • Maintain that racism is defined as prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behavior against any individuals or groups on the grounds of race and can be addressed as such.
  • Deny that racism is “prejudice + power”, that it is hard-baked into society, that it is unavoidable and present in every interaction to be discovered and called out.
  • Maintain that each individual can choose not to hold racist views and should be expected to do so, that racism is declining over time and becoming rarer, and that we can and should see one another as humans first and members of certain races second, that issues of race are best dealt with by being honest about racialized experiences, while still working towards shared goals and a common vision. (Ibid, pp 266-267)

Happy MLK Day!

Reading Roundup: 2022

Of the dozen or so books I read this year, I recommend the following seven. Four were published this year; two I was catching up on; and one of them was published five centuries ago.

1. The Critical Qur’an: Explained from Key Islamic Commentaries and Contemporary Historical Research. Robert Spencer, 2022. This is the Qur’an I keep close at hand now for ready reference. To describe it, imagine a certain translation of the Bible (say the RSV) that is footnoted with textual variants, theological commentary from Christian authorities spanning antiquity to the present, and also modern historical-critical commentary. The Critical Qur’an is a tool like that, and one that we’ve needed for a long time. Spencer’s book offers four features that are impossible to find elsewhere in a single volume: (1) Variant readings: It’s one of the first Qur’anic commentaries, if not the very first, to provide variant readings from different manuscripts, in the same way that variant readings are found in most study Bibles for the Tanakh and New Testament. (2) Tafsir commentary: Citations from mainstream Muslim exegetes (the tafsir) are provided, spanning the 8th to 21st centuries. This is highly valuable since all these theologians and jurists are held to be authoritative, and their commentary allows the reader to understand how the Qur’anic texts have been, and continue to be, understood in mainstream Islam. (3) Critical commentary: Citations from academic scholars shed light on the textual evolution of the Qur’an. (4) Clarity: This Qur’an clarifies difficult or troublesome passages, for example like the many exhortations to jihad; the words is usually translated as “strive hard” in the way of Allah — which is legitimate, since “jihad” means “strive” or “struggle” — but the primary meaning of jihad in Islamic theology is warfare against unbelievers. Importantly, the suras are explained in view of the doctrine of abrogation (the late suras of Medina supersede or take precedence over the early suras of Mecca) and that if there is any one sura that has the “final say” in mainstream Islam, it’s sura 9. This easily tops my list; see here for a full review.

2. Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media. Jacob Mchangama, 2022. Absolutely required reading — a history of the world seen through the lens of free expression. I’m surprised no one thought to write a book like this before. Even free-speech gurus will learn much from it; I certainly did. Its thesis is twofold, first that free speech almost always sets in motion a process of entropy — even its most passionate defenders want exceptions made (based on what offends them), while others ultimately can’t resist the censoring impulse. Second, that free speech culture is as important as the legal apparatus of free speech — perhaps even more so. Without the former, the latter is doomed to dissolve; the abundant examples of history make this clear. Thinkers like Baruch Spinoza, John Stuart Mill, and George Orwell warned about society’s tendencies to impose conformity apart from the government, and that unwelcome ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without an official ban. This is history as it should be written, in a clear arresting framework. At every point you want to keep going, to see how societies never learn their lesson. Full review in three parts: one, two, three.

3. Castaways. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, 1542 (English translation: 1993). Written by a Spanish explorer, this journal is a wealth of anthropological information about Native American tribes that are unattested anywhere else. It’s a fantastic read on its own right, and certainly the best book I’ve ever read about the conquistador era. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca lived among the coastal natives of Texas for six and a half years (Nov 1528 – May 1535) and then among the natives of Mexico for about a year (May 1535 – March 1536), and it’s incredible that he survived to leave us the details. He was naked for the full eight years, freezing during the cold seasons, and often lived on a diet of spiders, worms, and cacti. It’s no surprise that from the original expedition of 600 Spaniards, only he and three others survived (the only surprise being that any of them survived), mostly by being accepted among the various native tribes as witch-doctors who performed faith-healings. For a man of his times Álvar Núñez was admirable: a proud evangelical who came to accept the natives mostly on their own terms, and who was enraged when he finally reconnected to Spanish civilization in Mexico and found that his countrymen wanted to make war on the natives and enslave them. Full review here.

4. Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons. Ben Riggs, 2022. If you really want the dirt on TSR, this is the book to read. My biggest takeaways: (1) “Saint” Gary Gygax was no saint, and he often lied about his supposed powerlessness and ignorance. Not only was he aware of TSR’s disastrous errors, he participated in them as they were happening. (2) Lorraine Williams was even less admirable, notwithstanding the author’s attempts to reconsider her legacy. After Gary hired her to manage the company in 1985, she managed a hostile takeover of sorts, forcing Gary out of the company by the end of the year. (Though Gary has largely himself to blame for being victimized here.) The biggest problem with Lorraine is that she wasn’t a gamer, disdained gamers (didn’t consider them social equals), treated her staff like shit, and as a result had a hard time holding onto talented writers. Genius designers kept leaving TSR for greener pastures. (3) By the middle of ’95, TSR owed its distributor Random House almost 12 million dollars, and Random House was demanding that most of this debt be paid off within two years. This was the culmination of a ponzi scheme that had been in place, going all the way back to ’79 (in Gary’s day), whereby Random House paid TSR for the products TSR gave it to distribute, whether those products sold or not. There is more here. Old-school gamers will definitely enjoy (?) this book.

5. Islam and Nazi Germany’s War. David Motadel, 2014. This won the Wiener Library Ernst Fraenkel prize, but it somehow never got on my radar until this year. It’s a study of how Nazi Germany used the Islamic religion to expand its influence and wage war. “Scholars have paid less attention to this phenomenon that one might imagine”, writes the author, and though I always knew of the Nazi-Islam bonding during World War II, I didn’t know nearly enough of the sordid details, for example that Germany’s accommodating policies with the Islamic world go all the way back to the late 1800s. The book’s thesis is that Berlin’s engagement with Islam in 1941-45 was at least as extensive as in 1914-18, if not more so. Motadel examines the way Nazi Germany promoted Islam, and the ramifications of that alliance in terms of both race/ethnicity and religion/ideology. Hitler devalued Christianity while extolling Islam; for him Christianity was soft, artificial, and weak, while Islam was a strong and a practical faith, and much more suited to the Germanic spirit. In the table talks he expressed regret over the victory of Charles Martel in 732 CE, saying that if Martel hadn’t been victorious, then the Germans would have been converted to Islam, which would have allowed the Germanic races to conquer the world. It’s intriguing that Hitler believed Islam was a superior religion, but that its Arab adherents were an inferior race. That second part was a problem for the Reich, no matter how diligently their propaganda machines tried papering over it (by upholding white supremacy in “Muslim-friendly” ways). This book is utterly fascinating and the research behind it impeccable. Full review here.

6. The Jazz-Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding. Ryan S. Walters, 2022. I can’t think of a better way to honor the 100th anniversary of Harding’s presidency. I rate him the second best president of all time for all the reasons Walters covers in his book. Harding slashed taxes and government spending, started a booming economy, and achieved world peace through international cooperation instead of war-mongering. He went to bat for African Americans, even going so far as to address a crowd in the deep south (Birmingham, Alabama) at a time when Jim Crow laws were in full swing: he insisted on the need for equal rights for blacks, many of whom listened to the speech behind a segregated barrier. He urged the passing of anti-lynching legislation, appointed liberty-conscious Supreme Court justices, and pardoned hundreds of political prisoners who had been unjustly criminalized by Woodrow Wilson during the first world war. To this day, Harding is remembered for almost none of this. After he died the scandals of his administration were uncovered — scandals that were no worse than those that plagued many other presidential administrations, and Harding didn’t even participate or gain anything from them. But for bizarre reasons, historians continue to exaggerate them. Read this book (as well as my Rescuing a Reputation) and allow the real Harding to overthrow the demonized Harding.

7. The Resurrection of Jesus: Apologetics, Polemics, History. Dale Allison, 2021. Like Allison I aspire to be led to my conclusions, not led by them, and this book is a model of such aspiration. In 400 pages it reworks and hugely expands on the 177-page essay from Resurrecting Jesus (2005), and amounts to the best treatment of Jesus’s (alleged) resurrection that I know of. It covers a lot of interesting ground, the most interesting being the arguments for the empty tomb; those arguments have been revised for both better and worse, though the overall conclusion remains intact. I reviewed those particular arguments (from chapters 6 and 8) here, but the whole book is worth going through. There’s a chapter, for example, on the rainbow body phenomenon in Buddhist thought (disappearing bodies), and parallels between stories of people who achieve the rainbow body and the stories of Jesus’s resurrection. Allison mines the fields of psychology and parapsychology in accounting for how humanity copes with bereavement and dead loved ones, while steering clear of any reductionist explanations. With regards to the empty tomb, I think he makes a plausible case both for and against, and I agree with him that the scales tip slightly — ever so slightly — in favor of Jesus’s body being gone from the tomb on Easter morning. Though what that means or implies is still anyone’s guess.

Tulsi Gabbard’s Reasons for Ditching the Dems (The Good and the Bad)

Tulsi Gabbard has stirred the pot, and since she’s been a favorite of mine (I voted for her in the 2020 primaries), I will comment on her stated reasons for leaving the Democratic party, reproduced in the blue sections below. There’s plenty of good and bad here.

The pro-war Democratic Party has led us to the brink of nuclear war. The party is led by warmongers who are firmly in the grips of the military industrial complex, and don’t know or care about the cost of war, or who pays the price. President Biden and Democratic Party elite have pushed us to the precipice of nuclear war, risking starting WWIII and destroying the world as we know it. This is the most urgent existential threat we face. I ran for President in 2020 because I knew that this is where we were headed. All the signs were there. I raised this issue every day during the campaign, and on the national debate stage. But politicians and the media ignored it. They didn’t care then, and they don’t care now. Obviously I didn’t win that election, and don’t have the power to do what is necessary to prevent it. President Biden and Congress do. But they irresponsibly refuse to use that power to protect the safety of our country, the American people, and the world from the devastation of a nuclear holocaust. To protect our loved ones, our children, our world, I’m calling upon the American people to join me in standing up to these cowardly politicians now. This may be our last chance to do so.

Yes and no. On the one hand, it is undeniably true that the Dems have devolved into war-hawks since the 90s. The foreign policies of Bill Clinton and Barak Obama were as bellicose as Ronald Reagan’s (and in some ways more so), and Hillary Clinton would have been worse than any of those three had she won the 2016 election.

On the other hand, Joe Biden hasn’t been terribly bad in this regard. Contrary to what Tulsi implies, Biden has kept a pretty level head in his response to Ukraine. He has, very wisely, refused to put boots on the ground or to get the U.S. directly involved with troops. He has advocated assisting Ukraine with material and moral support, and that, in my view, is a morally defensible position. Tulsi’s biggest liability is her willingness to join hands with (the right-wing) Tucker Carlson and (the left-wing) Noam Chomsky in arguing that the U.S. is escalating violence by trying to weaken the Russian regime. (The logic being that this undermines possibilities of peaceful negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.) That kind of reasoning would keep us from taking active steps against almost any tyranny that needs to be checked.

I appreciate Tulsi’s overall sensibilities here. The left has become a parody of itself to the point that if you express enough hate for the U.S. and militancy you might just be considered a good American patriot, but if you are not militant enough when it comes to Ukraine — and if you don’t display enough rage and venom against Putin — this somehow makes you a traitor. People like Whoopi Goldberg, for example, are saying that Tucker Carlson and Tulsi Gabbard should be prosecuted for treason. And liars like Mitt Romney have claimed that Tulsi was spreading propaganda — saying that the U.S. was working to develop bio-weapons for use against Ukraine’s enemies. Obviously Tulsi never said or implied this. What she said is a simple fact, that there are in fact bio-labs in Ukraine researching this kind of stuff (using anthrax to counter anthrax, for example), and the idea that these labs should be left in a war zone with Russians shelling nuclear facilities is a reasonable thing to object to. I have no respect for the Whoopi Goldbergs and Mitt Romneys of the world.

The problem is that Tulsi has overplayed the NATO card and downplayed the problem of Putin’s dangerous regime which demands a measured response. While it’s reasonable to be wary of NATO expansion (one of the few things Obama was right about, against Bush, was that Ukraine isn’t a core interest of the U.S.), at this point harping on NATO doesn’t help Ukraine any. And though the concern about nuclear war and World War III is legitimate, that doesn’t mean that any attempt to thwart tyrants amounts to an irresponsible escalation of violence.

Today’s Democratic Party rejects the rule of law. The people’s trust in the rule of law is the foundation for democracy. By weaponizing the security state and Federal law enforcement for their own partisan political ambitions, Democrat leaders are undermining the rule of law and turning our democracy into a banana republic. Across the country, Democrat politicians call for defunding the police, enacting laws that favor criminal’s rights over those of everyday Americans, and so-called progressive DA’s let violent criminals out of jail, refusing to charge them when many have been arrested 30, 40 or even 50 times. It should come as no surprise that crime and murder rates are rapidly increasing, people don’t feel safe walking down the street in their own neighborhoods, and firearm purchases for self defense have drastically increased. Under the Obama administration, the IRS was used to target conservative groups. Biden’s DOJ recently indicted 11 pro-life activists for organizing an event blockading an abortion clinic. They didn’t use physical force. They weren’t dangerous. But seven of them are facing 11 years in prison and fines of $250,000. The Biden DOJ and Department of Homeland Security has focused their newly formed Domestic Terror Unit to target parents who are vocally standing in opposition to radical curriculums and explicit sexual content being taught to young children in our public schools – labeling parents as “terrorists” for showing up at school board meetings and demanding change. President Biden campaigned on unity and on healing the partisan divide, but he’s now saying supporters of President Trump are the most extremist group in our country and a threat to our democracy. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris claim the Supreme Court is illegitimate simply because they disagree with its rulings. The Biden administration stood by and did nothing as activists protested outside the homes of Supreme Court justices during all hours of the day and night, in clear violation of federal law. When the party in power does not believe in the rule of law, yet they are responsible for writing and enforcing laws, our democracy is doomed.

Check. The Dems will never live down the idiocy of defunding the police. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris’s claims about the Supreme Court’s illegitimacy are inexcusable. And Tulsi has been right about things like Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which isn’t homophobic, nor does it discriminate against queer and trans students, nor does it prohibit normal, age-appropriate discussion of LGBTQ culture and history. It simply bars discussion from kids who are too young to make sense of sexual identity issues.

Today’s Democratic Party does not believe in our constitutionally protected right to free speech. Fostering diversity of thought and freedom of expression is the foundation of any flourishing democracy. Democratic Party leaders don’t agree. They are led by fanatical ideologues who pose a threat to our democracy because they don’t believe in freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion. They try to censor speech they don’t like, labeling it as “misinformation,” “hate speech,” or “violent speech.” They work hand-in-glove with corporate for-profit media and Big Tech to smear and silence political opponents and those who dare to challenge their authority, exposing their insecurities. The Biden Administration even tried launching their own “Ministry of Truth” to control what information we are allowed to read, hear, and say. Their ideology is one of hate and divisiveness, rather than respect and love (aloha) and is diametrically opposed to traditional ‘liberalism’ which recognizes the basic goodness of people and the autonomy of the individual, supporting civil liberties and a government of, by, and for the people. How can a political party that is opposed to freedom be trusted with our democracy? They can’t be.

Check. Biden’s plan for a “Ministry of Truth” was especially shameful, and thankfully it was killed in its crib. If a Republican president had ever assembled a government panel tasked with “weeding out disinformation”, we’d never hear the end of it. Everyone and the media would be howling.

Today’s Democratic Party does not believe in our constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion. The Constitution recognizes that our freedom comes from God — not governments. Unfortunately, Democratic Party leaders reject this truth and are hostile toward people of faith and spirituality, and actively undermine our religious freedom. During that 2020 Democratic National Convention, they chose to omit the words “under God” from our pledge of allegiance. High profile Democratic leaders mock or openly discriminate against people of faith, especially Christians. President Obama once ridiculed Americans for clinging to their guns and religion. Vice President Kamala Harris, as a senator in 2018, remarked that being a member of the Catholic charity organization, the Knights of Columbus, disqualified Brian Buescher from serving as a federal judge. Senator Dianne Feinstein derided now Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Catholic, during a Senate confirmation hearing, stating that “the dogma lives loudly within you.” Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution states “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Today’s Democratic party has forgotten that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion. Government must respect every American’s deeply personal relationship with God, and our freedom to express and practice that faith without fear of state-sponsored reprisal, censorship or discrimination. Whether one believes in God or not is not the point. Any political party that is trying to erase the presence of God from every facet of public life and is hostile toward those who choose to worship God, cannot be trusted to protect our inalienable God-given rights enshrined in the Constitution and should not be in power.

Uh, no. Most of this is overreaction. I’m far more worried about the blurring of separation of church and state that we’re seeing on the Republican side of things.

Today’s Democratic Party does not believe in our constitutionally protected right to bear arms. Our founders passed the Second Amendment out of a recognition that every one of us has a right to defend ourselves and our loved ones, and to serve as a check on a tyrannical government seeking to take away our God-given freedoms. The Democratic Party’s hatred of the Second Amendment and their increasing authoritarian instincts pose a serious threat to our freedoms. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” Beto O’Rourke said at a debate when he was running for president. Our founders intentionally passed the Second Amendment right after the First Amendment. The majority ruling from the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down New York’s law that barred people from concealed carry firearms summarized very clearly why Democrats are wrong to try to take away our rights: “Just as we do not need to seek a permit to stand on the street corner and exercise our right to free speech, we shouldn’t have to seek permission for a law abiding citizen to carry their firearm. We as a society don’t get to pick and choose which of our rights in the constitution are more worthy of protecting than another.” Protecting our freedom to defend ourselves and those we love, and protecting our rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution against a tyrannical power is exactly why we must ensure our right to bear arms “shall not be infringed.”

No. The Dems are not as hostile to gun rights and the Second Amendment as Tulsi makes them out to be. As for the recent Supreme Court ruling, it summarized very clearly what’s wrong with Republicans (who think like the majority of justices), not Democrats. The majority would have been right if it had been interpreting the Second Amendment correctly. As Clarence Thomas stated, the idea that one must demonstrate a special need in order to exercise one’s amendment right is unheard of. But the Second Amendment applies to militia; it’s not about sweeping inalienable gun rights for everyone.

Today’s Democratic Party is ‘Big Brother’ undermining our civil liberties: The Fourth Amendment of the constitution ensures ‘the right of [the American] people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.’ Democratic elite Party leaders have had many opportunities to get rid of unconstitutional provisions of the Patriot Act that violate our civil liberties — I introduced legislation while in Congress that would repeal the Patriot Act and address the dangerous FISA act being used to undermine our civil liberties, especially those protected by the Fourth Amendment. Every time, they choose the security state over our liberty. Whether it’s using the IRS to snoop into our bank accounts for sending someone over $600 via Venmo, supporting the corrupt system of civil forfeiture to seize property from law-abiding Americans who have not even been charged with a crime, or getting credit card companies to keep track of any and all firearm and ammunition related purchases, today’s Democratic Party stands with giving ‘Big Brother’ more power and control over our lives.

True. But the Republicans haven’t been any better, and I don’t trust them, as a party, when it comes to the 4th Amendment anymore than I do the Dems.

Today’s Democratic Party racializes everything and blatantly foments anti-white racism. The Democratic machine has betrayed Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of a nation where we are judged based on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin. In their blind pursuit of power, Democrat leaders reduce each of us as God’s children to the color of our skin, using identity politics to tear us apart for their own political gain. Democrats were silent in the face of Chicago’s Mayor Lightfoot’s blatantly racist policy of only accepting interviews with reporters of color because she was struck with the “overwhelming whiteness and maleness.” Modern day segregation in schools is promoted by racial profiteers like Robin DiAngelo and the corrupt self-identified cultural Marxists who lead Black Lives Matter. Today’s Democratic party embraces and celebrates their racist agenda. They support programs that teach children that they are either ‘the privileged’ or ‘the victims,’ oppressors or the oppressed, solely because of the color of their skin. They’ve become the racists they claim to hate.

Yes. Martin Luther King and the civil rights activists of the ’60s and ’70s would be appalled at the way social justice has been perverted into a bigoted identity politics. I remain a true social justice advocate in the spirit of classical liberalism and MLK, and like Tulsi I will keep calling out wokes for their toxic views.

Today’s Democratic Party is anti-woman. There’s no greater expression of hatred and hostility toward women than to erase the existence of women as a category of people. The Democratic Party has long claimed to be champions of women, proud of Title IX and leveling the playing field for women and girls. But now, the Biden Administration and Democratic Party are spitting in the face of these achievements by rejecting the objective truth that women exist and are not just a construct in a person’s mind. They can no longer define what a woman is, demand we replace words like “mother” with “birthing person,” and place women at risk to please biological men who claim to be women at any given moment. They are taking away the opportunities and futures of women in sports by allowing transgender athletes, who until recently identified as men, and who have the biological advantages of men, to compete against women. The Biden administration is quietly trying to change Title IX through a back-door rule change that would remove women and biological sex from the Title IX statute, taking away opportunities for millions of female athletes across the country. They now go so far as to claim it is ‘sexual harassment’ to address someone by the wrong pronouns, trying to force us to comply with this insanity by regulating our speech and thought. By denying that there are biological differences between men and women, they are erasing women and denying the existence of objective truth. If one denies the existence of truth, there are no boundaries in our society and the truth becomes whatever those in power want it to be.

Yes. Sadly enough. Obviously trans people need to be supported and not discriminated against, but gender identity politics has been used to make a farce of biology. It’s become increasingly accepted to claim that biological sex is on a spectrum and not bimodal. Anti-factual nonsense, and Tulsi is right to call it out. And the bit about sexual harassment isn’t hyperbole. Teenagers have actually been charged with sexual harassment for using proper biological pronouns instead of someone’s preferred pronouns.

Today’s Democratic Party is undermining families. Families are the bedrock of civilization. Today’s Democratic Party does not recognize this truth and the importance of the central foundational role that families play in our society and civilization. They want to strip away the rights of parents to raise their kids, claiming the government knows what’s better for your children than you do. Former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe said last year that there is no role for parents in determining a school’s curriculum. The largest teacher’s union in the country and one of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors, the National Education Association, recently passed a resolution that endorses the teaching of Critical Race Theory in classrooms across the country. Public school districts are implementing policies that sexualize kids as young as five or six years old. Taxpayer dollars are used to bring in drag strippers and encourage gender transition surgery in minors – all kept secret from their parents. HHS secretary Rachel Levine says young children should be empowered to get “gender-affirmation treatment,” which involves puberty blockers, chemical castration, and irreversible surgeries causing long-term harm to children. If parents do not comply, the Federal government threatens to take your children away. Families are the foundation of civilization and our society, and today’s Democratic Party’s policies are quickly eroding that foundation to the detriment of us all.

Not really. A lot of overreaction here.

So there’s a lot in Tulsi’s speech that I applaud, but also a significant amount I take issue with. If she runs in 2024 as an independent or a Republican, I may well vote for her. If I had the power to appoint the next president, and I had to choose between her, Biden, and Trump, and I’d choose her hands down. Biden and Trump have way too many faults that overshadow Tulsi’s.

Republicans in the House, Democrats in the Senate

I sort of like the idea of Republicans controlling the House, Democrats controlling the Senate, and a libertarian-leaning president sitting the Oval Office. That last is a pipe dream at this point, but it looks like the first two will soon be realized. According to the 538, as of today (Sept 4, 2022):

Look on the bright side. The House is the only place where tax bills can start, and with Republicans in charge we needn’t worry much about that. A Democrat dominated Senate is good because it will block any legislation generated by the more toxic Republicans (like a national abortion ban). So from where I sit, things are looking up.

Harding, Wilson, and the Perils of Expertise

A co-worker called my attention to an article from my local newspaper: Harding, Wilson, and the Perils of Expertise (August 16, 2022). It’s always nice to see Harding rescued from his undeserved reputation. Those who have read my presidential rankings know that most historians favor Wilson and put Harding in the cellar. That’s 100% backwards. I judge Harding to be the second best president of all time and Wilson the very worst. The Telegraph article, written by Robert Graboyes, gets the two men right:

“The fallibility of expertise is obvious when one considers that for nearly a century historians have considered Woodrow Wilson among the near-great presidents and Warren Harding among the worst. (Harding died 99 years ago this month, and Wilson six months later.)

In 1921, Harding gave the most courageous presidential civil rights speech ever. Speaking in Birmingham, Ala., Harding called for racial equality. White spectators stood in stunned silence while Black spectators cheered. Civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Dubois called the speech ‘a sudden thunder in blue skies’ driving discussion ‘into the clear light of truth.’

In contrast, Wilson, Harding’s predecessor, helped poison race relations for a century. Even by 1910’s standards, Wilson’s racism was appalling. As president, he strived to undo whatever modest gains African-Americans had made since the Civil War.

Harding openly supported anti-lynching legislation — which Wilson opposed. Wilson’s acolytes whispered (falsely) that Harding had an African-American ancestor; Harding’s response amounted to ‘maybe so, and I don’t care.’

Wilson invited Hollywood pioneer D.W. Griffith to screen his technically pathbreaking but thematically toxic Birth of a Nation at the White House — the first film to be shown there. The film featured Wilson’s words: ‘The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation… until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.’ (Wilson later developed misgivings about the film, but his screening had already helped revive the Klan.)

Historians often favor leaders with expansive agendas during dramatic times over those with modest goals in calmer times.

Wilson led America into World War I, sired the Federal Reserve, and exerted an imperious (‘Wilsonian’) foreign policy. Harding wasn’t a great president [actually, he was], but his America craved ‘normalcy’ after the nightmare of World War I. Wilson expanded the federal government, while Harding focused on the less sexy goal of tidying it up. Today’s Office of Management and Budget and Government Accountability Office trace their origins to Harding. Harding’s appointees were often outstanding– Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover and Chief Justice William Howard Taft.

Wilson’s venality and Harding’s generous nature were not limited to race.

Wilson’s 1912 Socialist opponent, Eugene V. Debs, was imprisoned for urging resistance to World War I conscription. Wilson wrote, ‘This man was a traitor to his country and he will never be pardoned during my administration.’ From prison in 1920, Debs ran against Harding, who then commuted his sentence and invited him to the White House, saying, ‘I’ve heard so damned much about you, Mr. Debs, that I am now glad to meet you personally.’

Wilson ignored warnings that draconian punishment of Germany would elicit disaster. Fury over his Versailles Treaty was a catalyst for Germany’s monsters — anarchists, communists, proto-Nazis. Wilson excluded senators from negotiations over the League of Nations, and they rejected his brainchild. Harding involved senators deeply in negotiations over a postwar disarmament treaty and won unanimous Senate approval.

Harding signed the unfortunate 1921 Emergency Quota Act closing America’s doors to immigration. But the act passed nearly unanimously in both houses — more a product of Wilson-era xenophobia than of the newly inaugurated Harding.

Immensely popular while in office, Harding’s posthumous reputation suffered from his naïve trust of unworthy cronies. Interior Secretary Albert Fall was imprisoned for corruption. Harding’s corrupt attorney general, Harry Daugherty, was forced from office by Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s successor. But were Fall and Dougherty worse than Wilson’s attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, who whipped up the first big Red Scare, deported immigrants and launched raids of dubious constitutionality against Americans? Harding’s posthumous reputation also suffered from the (correct) rumor that he fathered an illegitimate child with a much-younger woman.

Harding was what Winston Churchill called Clement Attlee: ‘a modest man with much to be modest about.’ Compare that to a story told by Sigmund Freud: an associate remarked to Wilson how proud he was to have contributed to the president’s election victory. Wilson’s icy response, Freud said, was: ‘Remember that God ordained that I should be the next president of the United States. Neither you nor any other mortal or mortals could have prevented this.’

Rest well, Mr. Harding.”

If You Could Live (or Relive) Two Years in the Past

Here’s an interesting exercise: If you could go back in time and live out two full years in America, any two years between 1913-1992, what would they be? In other words, sometime after all continental states were admitted to the union, but before the World Wide Web was made public. My years of choice are 1925 and 1973.

The Year 1925

The mid-twenties in general were a time to be alive. It was the ultimate decade of peace, prosperity, and freedom. Presidents Warren Harding (1921-23) and Calvin Coolidge (1923-29) kept the nation out of war and needless costly foreign intervention. They raised the standard of living for millions. Technological advances and mass production made consumer goods affordable, and the spread of electrical power created a demand for appliances. Many people could buy cars, yielding a new world of paved roads and stores. New York became the largest city in the world, overtaking London. Child mortality rates dropped across the nation. Money was spent lavishly on public education. Women were now able to vote, giving the country 26 million new voters. People danced the nights away, to the latest music on radio. There was Prohibition, which was bad itself, but yielded the benefit of the black market with bootlegging and speakeasies; in effect the price of booze went way down. If there was a decade I could visit during the first half of the twentieth century, it would be the 20s hands down, and the particular year I choose is 1925.

Here are some of the note-worthies of 1925.

Great Books. Some say the greatest year for books was 1925. Books like An American Tragedy and The Great Gatsby were hugely influential.

The First Motel. Hotels had been around since 1794, but the first motel opened in California in 1925, located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It charged a rate of $1.25 per night. Motels hinted that car culture would soon take over the American way of life.

Gitlow v. New York. This year the Supreme Court made a landmark ruling: that the right of free speech protects a person from state interference as much as federal interference. The Court had previously held, in Barron v. Baltimore (1833), that the Constitution’s Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government, but Gitlow reversed that precedent and established that while the Bill of Rights was designed to limit the power of the federal government, the denial of these rights by a state government constitutes a denial of due process which is prohibited under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Pierce v. Society of Sisters. In this year the Court also held that children did not have to attend public schools. States that made such a requirement were acting unconstitutionally.

Scopes Monkey Trial. In the summer of 1925, the Scopes Trial was all the rage — staged deliberately to attract publicity. Tennessee upheld a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools, and fined Scopes $100, although the state supreme court overturned the ruling on a technicality. The nation would have to wait until 1968 for SCOTUS’s substantive ruling: that banning evolution violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, since the bans are primarily religious. But the Scopes trial itself was a benchmark in forcing the question of whether or not evolution should be taught in public schools.

Weird Tales and Adventure (“The Camp-Fire”). The pulp magazines became wildly popular in the 20s. Weird Tales — still regarded today as the most important and influential of all fantasy magazines — had launched its first issue in 1923, and in 1925 began publishing an issue every month. Adventure Magazine, started back in 1910, had grown so popular by the 20s that its letters page, “The Camp-Fire” (not to be confused with the youth development organization by the same name, that also started in 1910), had become a major cultural phenomenon. The Camp-Fire featured editorials and fiery discussions about all sorts of topics, usually about whether or not the author had the right facts in his or her story. Historical accuracy, geographical accuracy, the kind of weapons the characters used — all of these and more were debated with passion. By 1924, a number of Camp-Fire Stations — locations where Adventure readers could hook up — were established across the U.S. and even in other countries. In 1925 one of the Camp-Fire’s most fiery debates was over the character of Julius Caesar. The writers often embellished their lives, reinvented themselves with outlandish fictions (even in their bio sketches); some were con artists. By 1925 Adventure was unquestionably the most important pulp magazine in the world, let alone the U.S. I’d love to live in 1925 as a subscriber to Weird Tales and Adventure, and as a Camp-Fire freak.

Drag Balls. The tradition of masquerade and civil balls (“drag balls”) goes back to 1869 in Harlem. By the mid-1920s, at the height of Prohibition, they were attracting thousands of people of different races and social classes—whether straight or gay. We tend to think of Stonewall (in 1969) as the beginning of the gay rights movement, but decades before that, Harlem’s drag balls were part of an LGBTQ nightlife-culture that gave us gay and lesbian enclaves. What fun. Only after the Depression would this libertine culture fall out of favor, as many would blame this cultural experimentation for the economic collapse.

The Year 1973

The early 70s were gloomy and nihilistic, but that’s what generated so much artistic creativity and cultural progress. Disillusion, cynicism, paranoia, and frustrated rage coalesced in the ’60s aftermath, yielding introspection and existentialism. Films were about dirty cops, shady leaders, conspiracies, isolation, and loneliness. Rock lyrics were about individuals trying desperately to connect to others, to themselves, and to the world around them. The dress and hair styles were awful, granted, but aside from that, it was a groovy period. The best year in particular is 1973. I was alive that year, but so tiny and young that I remember nothing about it. I’d love to go back and live out the year as an adult.

Here are the note-worthies of 1973:

The Exorcist. The best and scariest film of all time is released. I’d give anything to see this masterpiece on screen when everyone was fainting in the isle and running from the theaters.

The Godfather. The epic film wins Best Picture, becoming the new Citizen Kane.

Selling England by the Pound. The best album by the best band of all time. Or at least, Genesis was the best band while Peter Gabriel was involved.

Dark Side of the Moon. The most important album by the most important band of all time. Even if The Wall is Floyd’s best, Dark Side’s influence can’t be exaggerated.

All in the Family. The best episodes — meaning the most offensive and insanely hilarious ones — from the best TV sitcom of all time come from the late part of season 3 and the early part of season 4, which spanned the year of 1973: “Archie Goes Too Far”, “Archie Learns His Lesson”, “The Battle of the Month”, “We’re Having a Heat Wave”, “Henry’s Farewell”, “The Games Bunkers Play”, “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Wig”, to name the very best episodes.

Abortion. Roe v. Wade was a problematic ruling, but the result was at least good, guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion.

The Paris Peace Accords. After 16 years, American involvement in the Vietnam War ended. Peace at last.

The War Powers Resolution. The congressional resolution (vetoed by Richard Nixon but then overridden) limits the president’s ability to initiate or escalate military actions abroad. It states that “the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply” whenever the American armed forces are deployed overseas. Many presidents since then have failed to comply with this resolution, and for the worse.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. The American Psychiatric Association declares that homosexuality is not a mental illness or sickness, and removes from its manuals the listing of same-sex activity as a disorder.

The Endangered Species Act. The most comprehensive legislation enacted (in any nation) for the protection of endangered species.

Texas Law and Social Media

A federal appeals court in Texas has issued a ruling that allows Texas residents to sue Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other giant social media networks for censoring content based on opinions or points of view. The logic is that such companies aren’t websites but “internet providers,” and that if Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube can censor, there’s no reason phone companies cannot disconnect telephone calls if they hear speech they don’t like. (As “common carriers”, telephone companies don’t discriminate or restrict access based on the content of calls. Internet providers like Facebook were briefly designated common carriers as well, until the FCC killed net neutrality in 2017.)

Herein lies the problem. As I explained last year, social media companies are being treated legally like neutral platforms, or carriers, while being allowed to function as editorial sites:

“Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube have been treated legally as neutral platforms (like a phone line) — so they’re not responsible for what people say and post — while being allowed to function as editorial sites — so they can step in to edit or remove what people say on their platforms, or kick them off. That’s having their cake and eating it. If they want the prerogative to censor and deplatform as private corporations, then fine, I support that, but they should be stripped of their legal immunities. They shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.”

I still believe this. Holding big-tech companies accountable would force them into the role of a neutral, non-censoring platform. (For obviously they would never give up their legal immunities: they’d be inundated with lawsuits and go bankrupt within a week.) Problem solved — and without messing with the First Amendment, or trying to incorporate it in the private sphere, as the above article speculates may be on the horizon…

What would the Supreme Court say?

The article concludes that

“It’s possible the dispute won’t be resolved unless and until it ends up before the US Supreme Court. What would happen at that point is impossible to say, but as CNN notes, the apparent willingness to overturn Roe v Wade suggests that some aspects of the First Amendment, particularly with regard to online platforms, could be open to reinterpretation as well, with potentially far-reaching consequences.”

I’m not so sure about that. It was the conservative justices who upheld the right of private corporations to suspend contributors using public access channels in Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck (6/17/19). Kavanagh wrote the opinion (joined by Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch). It was the four liberals, rather (Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan) who dissented, arguing that the private corporation “stepped into the city’s shoes” and thus qualified as a state actor, subject to the First Amendment.

In other words, if there is any SCOTUS precedent for treating private companies as being subject to the First Amendment, it was set by the liberal minority, not the conservative majority. The Texas lawsuit is different from the Manhattan case, to be sure, but the point is that the conservatives were quite clear in that decision that the First Amendment applies only to the governmental abridgment of speech. If the current case reaches the Supreme Court, we’ll see how firmly they hold to that position, and if the liberals do any backpedaling themselves.

When Roe Falls

Not all maps that you find online tell the same story. According to The Center for Reproductive Rights (which has the most documentation), this is how things look if Roe v. Wade is overturned this summer.

A. Abortion protected (21). These states (dark blue, light blue, green) currently have passed laws codifying the right to abortion:

Alaska
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Hawaii
Illinois
Iowa
Kansas
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Minnesota
Montana
Nevada
New Jersey
New York
Oregon
Rhode Island
Vermont
Washington

Of those twenty-one, nine of them — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington — have been very proactive, either by enacting laws to expand abortion access, or by passing comprehensive abortion rights legislation. Four of them — Colorado, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont — ensure the right to abortion throughout even the third trimester.

B. Abortion legal, but not protected (4). In these states (yellow), it is currently legal to get an abortion, but the right is not protected by law:

New Hampshire
New Mexico
Pennsylvania
Virginia

C. Abortion likely to be restricted or banned (25). In these states (orange, red) law makers are hostile to abortion:

Alabama
Arizona
Arkansas
Florida
Georgia
Idaho
Indiana
Kentucky
Louisiana
Michigan
Mississippi
Missouri
Nebraska
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

Of those twenty-five, thirteen of them — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wyoming — have trigger laws in place to restrict or ban abortion; they would likely go into effect immediately after Roe is overturned. The other twelve — Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia, Wisconsin — have zombie laws (predating Roe) still on the books, or laws making abortions difficult to obtain, or lawmakers who are currently intent on restricting or banning abortion.

In other words, the country is evenly divided, with 25 states abortion-friendly and the other 25 abortion-hostile.

Former predictions: fact and fiction

While nothing has been decided yet, I think it’s a safe bet that the leaked draft reflects how each justice will sign off next month. In the post I wrote back in February, I predicted the likelihood that each justice would vote to overturn Roe as follows:

Clarence Thomas: 100%
Samuel Alito: 95%
Brett Kavanagh: 80%
Neil Gorsuch: 65%
Amy Coney Barrett: 60%

John Roberts: 15%
Stephen Breyer: 0%
Sonia Sotomayor: 0%
Elena Kagan: 0%

That was my (serious) prediction in February 2022.

Four years ago, however, in 2018, I wrote a futuristic novel, Stranger Things: The New Generation, in which Roe was overturned in the year 2021. I was off by one year, but I had no idea at the time that Roe would be revisited by the Supreme Court; I never seriously expected to see that happen in my lifetime — not even with all the Trump madness going on at the time in 2018. I was just imagining a horrific future for dramatic purposes. Yet what I imagined turned out to be pretty accurate. This is what I wrote:

“In 2021, the kids from Hawkins — Jane Hopper, Lucas Sinclair, Dustin Henderson, and William Byers — each turned fifty years old. It was a terrible year for their milestone, marred by national crises heralding worse disasters… Two appalling decisions were reached on the Supreme Court. The first was Carlson v. Dale, which overturned Roe v. Wade. The outrage spawned movements that made Antifa look pacifist. Violence shook the streets. Jane despised abortion, and would not have aborted Mike even to save her life. Were it not for her friends and father, she would have grown up to be a virulent anti-abortionist. Thanks to them (all men, interestingly) she understood why the issue was ethically challenging, and she had come to accept a woman’s right to choose. Now, after forty-nine years, that right had been torpedoed at the whim of five justices: Samuel Alito (who wrote the decision), John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanagh, and David Usher. The appointment of Usher to replace Ruth Ginsburg had sealed Roe’s fate. A scathing dissent was penned by Trump’s own Neil Gorsuch (who had turned out quite differently than expected), and approved without reserve by the remaining liberals: Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The dissent lamented the shame of a nation.”

I had Samuel Alito writing for the majority. I had Ruth Ginsburg gone and replaced (by a fictitious justice named David Usher), even though there was no hint in 2018 of Ginsburg retiring or having any health issues. The only two justices I got wrong were Roberts and Gorsuch. If you swap their votes, it’s a near perfect “prediction”. But again, I was just spitballing. If you had told me in 2018 that Roe v. Wade would be up for a pounding by SCOTUS in the next few years, I would have had a hard time believing it.

Next January (1/22/2023) would have marked the 50th anniversary of Roe, and while it’s premature to eulogize, my serious prediction made back in February appears to be fait accompli. The outcome will be mighty unpleasant for half the country, and I find it deplorable that we haven’t reached a point in America where the right to abortion can be taken for granted.

Free Speech Reading List

Someone requested that I make this list — the best books written about free speech. It’s a short list, but here they are. There are other good books I’ve read on the subject, but these are the ones whose arguments are so unassailable I would make them required reading.

It’s noteworthy that each author addresses free speech in its legal sense and in its broader cultural sense. From different angles they conclude similarly: that powerful private-sector actors, while obviously not subject to governmental restraints, should nonetheless respect the free speech rights of others over whom they exercise power. This is especially true of private universities, internet service providers, search engines, and social media platforms. Only in unusual circumstances should they exercise their “censorship” rights as private entities. In the first book, this is framed in the context of the dangers of societal conformity; in the second book, scientific progress; in the third, hate speech problems; and in the fourth, academic integrity.

1. Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media. Jacob Mchangama, 2022. Still hot of the press as I write this, Mchangama’s book is required reading on the subject — a history of the world seen through the lens of free expression. I’m surprised no one thought to write a book like this before. Even free-speech gurus will learn much from it; I sure did. Its thesis is twofold, first that free speech almost always sets in motion a process of entropy — even its most passionate defenders want exceptions made (based on what offends them), while others ultimately can’t resist the censoring impulse. Second, that free speech culture is as important as the legal apparatus of free speech — perhaps even more so. Without the former, the latter is doomed to dissolve; the abundant examples of history make this clear. Thinkers like Baruch Spinoza, John Stuart Mill, and George Orwell warned about society’s tendencies to impose conformity apart from the government, and that unwelcome ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without an official ban. This is history as it should be written, in a clear arresting framework. At every point you want to keep going, to see how societies never learn their lesson. Full review in three parts: one, two, three.

2. Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. Jonathan Rauch, 1993 (expanded edition 2013). Rauch stood at a crossroads in ’93 and saw the coming of 2014. It began with alarming trends — feminists joining hands with fundies in attempts to censor pornography — and reached a defining moment with Salman Rushdie. Suddenly liberals were retreating from their most important values, and they haven’t looked back since. It’s so rare to find a superb analysis of the processes that go into formulating our opinions (instead of just focusing on “where we stand”), and Rauch outlines different processes that people use to get at the truth. He argues for the liberal science approach (public criticism is the only way to determine who is right) and shows that the egalitarian and humanitarian approaches are not only misguided but dangerous. Hearing that certain religions promote violence more than others may be hurtful to the devout, but it’s a necessary truth that needs confronting. Hearing that biological sex is not on a spectrum may be hurtful to transgendered people, but what hurts is often factual. Science can screw up and fail, but it has a built-in mechanism to improve on itself when it does; and it’s a system that has never been surpassed anywhere in human history. Full review here.

3. Hate: Why We Should Resist it with Free Speech, Not Censorship. Nadine Strossen, 2018. No one is better equipped to write about hate speech than this former president of the ACLU. Her most important argument is that hate speech laws punish those who are simply expressing unwelcome or dissenting opinions. Examples abound: In South Africa the ANC tried to criminalize someone who said that colonialism produced positive effects as well as negative ones. In Azerbaijan a court sentenced a man to prison for “inciting religious hatred”, because he owned books by the exiled Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen (it’s true that Gülen isn’t a “moderate” as many claim; he’s an Islamic supremacist; still, one should not be criminalized for reading or owning his literature). In Singapore a 16-year old was sentenced to prison for “wounding religious feelings” when he took swipes at Christianity (the religion of Singapore’s first prime minister). In Denmark a man was convicted for posting on Facebook the (accurate) statement that “Islam wants to abuse democracy in order to get rid of democracy”; years before him a Danish historian was convicted for making the (truthful) statement that there was a high crime rate in areas with high Muslim populations. The list goes on. Even if something is genuinely hateful, it shouldn’t be censored. Almost every person says something which is arguably hateful at one point or another, and the First Amendment exists precisely to protect that which is disagreeable. Finally, hate speech laws are ineffective. Far from alleviating intergroup tensions and hostility, they exacerbate them.

4. Free Speech on Campus, Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman, 2017. The authors of this book want to prepare students for the road, not the road for the students. It sounds elementary, but college campuses are among the last places today you can be guaranteed a free exchanges of ideas. The majority position of students (58% of them, in 2017) is that they should not be exposed to ideas that offend them — an embarrassing repudiation of what academia has always stood for. Students are supposed to be stung, disturbed, upset, and thus provoked to reassess their current beliefs — and change the ones they cannot defend. Academic inquiry doesn’t care about student feelings, nor should it. Which isn’t to say that academic professors shouldn’t care about student’s feelings. The authors outline proper steps that campuses can take to create inclusive communities where all students feel protected — but without catering to infantile absurdities like trigger warnings, microaggressions, or censorship. Free Speech on Campus is the book to help make great thinkers again, indeed to help prepare students for the road, rather than the road for them. I wish it were required reading of every college freshman. Review in six parts: see here.

Free Speech Quiz

Jacob Mchangama’s book inspired me to make a free speech quiz, which you can take directly here. Explanations of the correct answers are at the bottom.

1. The first organized mass book burning in recorded history was ordered by

a. King Josiah, in the 7th century BCE
b. Emperor Qin Shi Huang, in the 3rd century BCE
c. King Antiochus IV, in the 2nd century BCE
d. Emperor Nero, in the 1st century CE

2. Who said that the Athenians attained greatness only when granted equality of speech?

a. Socrates
b. Demosthenes
c. Herodotus
d. Pericles

3. If you want to protect free speech in private universities and on corporate platforms, you would be protecting what kind of speech?

a. isegoria
b. parrhesia
c. eleftheria
d. skata

4. What religion has always prescribed the death penalty for thought crimes and blasphemy, and still does today?

a. Judaism
b. Hinduism
c. Buddhism
d. Islam

5. The Christian inquisitions began executing heretics for thought crimes and blasphemy in the year

a. 1184, under Pope Lucius III
b. 1199, under Pope Innocent III
c. 1231, under under Pope Gregory IX
d. 1252, under Pope Innocent IV

6. Which Calvinist said that atheists could be more virtuous than Christians, and had to flee France because of it?

a. Pierre Bayle
b. Daniel Chamier
c. Jean Dury
d. Francois Turrettini

7. The first known publisher who insisted on his right to publish material that was widely loathed, even by himself, was

a. Michael Spark, for the book “Histrio-mastix” (1632), which ridiculed the English king and queen
b. Pierre Marteau, for the book “Treatise of the Three Imposters” (1719), which portrayed Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as dim-witted frauds
c. Elie Luzac, for the book “Man a Machine” (1747), which argued that human beings are soulless animals
d. Diderot, for an entry in the Encyclopedie (1751-72), which cross-referenced “cannibals” with “the eucharist” and “communion”

8. After passing the First Amendment in 1791, how long did it take for the American government to pass a law that attacked it?

a. 7 years
b. 38 years
c. 70 years
d. 126 years

9. Which European ruler was the first monarch champion of free speech and the press, then later reversed and installed a regime of censorship?

a. Louis XIV (France)
b. Catherine the Great (Russia)
c. Charles VI (Holy Roman Emperor)
d. Mary Tudor (England)

10. In retaliation against the American South’s censorship of anti-slavery pamphlets, what Northern publication invited Southerners to publish their own (pro-slavery) pamphlets for distribution in the North, as an alternative to censoring the anti-slavery ones?

a. Freedom’s Defense
b. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
c. The Liberator
d. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

11. Which of the following American presidents did NOT violate the First Amendment?

a. Andrew Jackson
b. Abraham Lincoln
c. Woodrow Wilson
d. Warren Harding

12. No respectable study or evidence has shown any causal link between pornography and violence.

a. True
b. False

13. Which was NOT an argument used by the American Civil Liberties Union in defending the rights of American Nazis in 1934?

a. Hate speech laws are highly subjective and open to abuse.
b. Punishing Nazis for their speech makes martyrs out of monsters.
c. American Nazis are a fringe group having little impact.
d. Abandoning its principles would seriously undermine the ACLU’s position when defending the rights of other unpopular groups.

14. Which American president used tyrannical rhetoric (that of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao) in saying that news outlets were “enemies of the people”, and sued media outlets for defamation of his character?

a. Teddy Roosevelt
b. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
c. George W. Bush
d. Donald Trump

15. Which nation currently holds the world record for most imprisoned journalists, and also for having the most oppressive internet censorship apparatus?

a. Russia
b. China
c. Iran
d. Argentina

16. In what decade did the American Supreme Court rule that the First Amendment was legally binding on state governments, and not just the federal government?

a. 1870s
b. 1920s
c. 1950s
d. 1960s

17. A major difference between the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movement of the 2010s is that:

a. The former used boycotts to achieve its goal; the latter has not.
b. The former met with no police violence; the latter has met with loads of police violence.
c. The former relied heavily on the press to get its message out; the latter hasn’t used social media much for that purpose.
d. The former saw free speech as complementary to justice and equality; the latter has seen free speech as a threat to justice and equality.

18. Western leftists in 2005 condemned Danish cartoonists for drawing “hateful” pictures of the prophet Muhammad. Who was proven a real prophet, in having already warned that hate speech laws are easily open to this kind of perversion and abuse?

a. James Madison, at the signing of the Constitution in 1787
b. Edward Terry Sanford, from the Supreme Court bench in 1925
c. Eleanor Roosevelt, at the United Nations in 1950
d. John F. Kennedy, at the joint session of Congress in 1961

19. Which two writers believed that broad societal threats to free speech could be as threatening as government-imposed censorship?

a. George Orwell and John Stuart Mill
b. George Orwell and Thomas Paine
c. George Grote and John Stuart Mill
d. George Grote and Thomas Paine

20. Child pornography is illegal in America because

a. It’s an exception to the First Amendment — too offensive even for a law designed to protect offensiveness.
b. It involves the exploitation of real-world children.

 

Answers

1. b. Emperor Qin Shi Huang, in the 3rd century BCE. He ordered Confucian literature and historical records predating his reign to be burned and banned.

2. c. Herodotus. 

3. b. parrhesia. In Athens, isegoroia referred to the equality of public, civic speech, while parrhesia was frank or uninhibited speech in more general contexts (schools, theater, etc.)

4. d. Islam. Despite revisionist claims, Islam has always prescribed death for thought crimes like blasphemy and abandoning Islam. The punishment derives from Muhammad in the Sunnah and in many Hadith, and all four schools of Sunni Islam (Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanafi) continue to uphold the penalty today.

5. c. 1231, under under Pope Gregory IX. In 1184 Lucius III ordered heretics to be punished (this was the birth of the medieval inquisitions). In 1199, Innocent III declared heretics to be guilty of actual treason, and they had their goods confiscated. In 1231 Gregory IX demanded that heretics be burned at the stake (now execution was on the board). And in 1252 Innocent IV sanctioned a doctrine of torture for inquisitors to use.

6. a. Pierre Bayle.

7. Elie Luzac, for the book “Man a Machine” (1747), which argued that human beings are soulless animals.

8. a. 7 years. In 1798 Congress passed the infamous Sedition Act, which President John Adams enthusiastically signed. The Act made it a crime to simply criticize the president, Congress, or the federal government, whether by speech or press. (Adams and the Congressional Federalists were voted out of office, and under Thomas Jefferson’s presidency the Sedition Act died.)

9. b. Catherine the Great (Russia). In 1767 she had instructed the Commission on Laws to create a new legal code with government reforms based on liberal humanitarian political theories — that “all men should be considered equal before the law” — and she loved Voltaire and Diderot, and took inspiration from their ideas about free speech. In 1790 she reversed herself, disturbed by how the French Revolution was unfolding.

10. a. Freedom’s Defense. Written in 1836.

11. d. Warren Harding. The other three presidents egregiously violated the First Amendment: (a) Andrew Jackson petitioned Congress to pass an act prohibiting the circulation of abolitionist papers in the South; then he rammed through the House a gag rule that made bringing any anti-slavery petitions illegal. (b) Abraham Lincoln arrested journalists, newspaper publishers, and critics of the Civil War, and threw them into prison; he closed the mail to publications which opposed his war policies, and created military tribunals to prosecute civilians who were discouraging people from enlisting in union armies. (c) Woodrow Wilson set the clock back to 1798 (the Sedition Act under John Adams), with a new Sedition Act during World War I that made any speech, spoken or in print, illegal if it was critical of the aims of the government; protesting the draft was illegal; Wilson used the post office and Justice Department to suppress free speech, and ordered the War Department to censor all telegraph and telephone traffic; he fined and imprisoned thousands for criticizing the war.

12. a. True.

13. c. American Nazis are a fringe group having little impact. That’s an irrelevant argument with regards to free speech.

14. d. Donald Trump. Of course.

15. b. China.

16. b. 1920s. The landmark case was Gitlow v. New York (1925), which ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment extended the First Amendment’s provisions — freedom of speech and the press — to apply to the state governments, not just federal. This finally gave the First Amendment the teeth that it really needed.

17. d. The former saw free speech as complementary to justice and equality; the latter has seen free speech as a threat to justice and equality. It’s a sad commentary on the woke movement.

18. c. Eleanor Roosevelt, at the United Nations in 1950. Unfortunately her wisdom didn’t prevail.

19. a. George Orwell and John Stuart Mill. George Orwell warned that “unwelcome ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban”, and a century before him John Stuart Mill also feared society’s tendencies to impose conformity apart from the government.

20. b. It involves the exploitation of real-world children. It’s a common misunderstanding that there are exceptions to the First Amendment, but there aren’t, since every person is offended in different degrees by different things. The law protects all offensive speech — in particular, that which offends you, more than someone else — including hate speech, which is highly subjective. Inciting violence, harassment, child pornography, using copyright, and disturbing the peace are all illegal, not because any of those are deemed “too offensive”, but because they violate the rights of others in some way.