The Campaign to “Abolish Billionaires”

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are jockeying to spearhead a new crusade. Its premise is that the sheer existence of billionaires is a moral outrage.

“I don’t think that billionaires should exist,” Sanders explained. The crusade’s rallying cry: “Abolish billionaires.” To that end, Warren and Sanders have each proposed special taxes on the ultra-rich.

Central to this crusade is a claim many find plausible. In a New York Times column that went viral, Farhad Manjoo called for “kneecapping the wealthiest among us” because a billion dollars is “far more than anyone might reasonably claim to deserve, however much he believes he has contributed to society.” A burgeoning chorus keeps telling us: “No one deserves a billion dollars” (Tom Scocca); “No one earns a billion dollars” (Jacobin magazine). The implication: everyone who accumulates — not earns, mind you, but accumulates — so vast a fortune must have done so by shady means.

What’s truly corrupt, however, is the campaign to “abolish billionaires.” It’s founded on a smear. It’s not ignorance that leads billionaire-haters to deny the sheer possibility that a billion can be earned. It’s a willful disregard of the facts.

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The Berlin Wall and the Evil of Socialism

Some came with sledgehammers, some just with their bare hands. On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, jubilant crowds began tearing down the Berlin Wall, an infamous barrier dividing families, a city, a nation. Even as we celebrate that iconic moment, the moral meaning of the Berlin Wall is little understood. 

The Berlin Wall was built and murderously enforced in the name of a profoundly destructive political idea, which, alarmingly, many today are embracing. . .

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The Timeless Power of We the Living, Ayn Rand’s First, But Least Known, Novel

“Petrograd smelt of carbolic acid.”

The reek of that powerful disinfectant — used to abate the spread of lice-borne diseases — hints at the squalor that defines Petrograd. The city, in the years after the Communist revolution, is a study in filth, poverty, quiet despair. Returning to Petrograd by train is a young woman, whose posture and mien single her out. “She had a calm mouth and slightly widened eyes with the defiant, enraptured, solemnly and fearfully expectant look of a warrior who is entering a strange city and is not quite sure whether he is entering as a conqueror or a captive.”

Meet Kira Argounova, the heroine of We the Living, Ayn Rand’s first — but least known — novel.

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A Blind Spot Obscuring the Islamist Menace

Well before the Islamic State declared itself a “caliphate,” its leaders announced their aim plainly. But few took them seriously.

“Our objective,” stated one of its spokesmen, “is the formation of an Islamic state on the prophetic model that acknowledges no boundaries, distinguishes not between Arab and non-Arab, easterner and westerner, but on the basis of piety. Its loyalty is exclusively to God: it relies on only Him and fears Him alone.”

Having promised to establish such a caliphate — a society on “the prophetic model,” ruled by sharia (or religious law), a society indifferent to ethnicity and nationality, united only by faith — the Islamic State did exactly that on conquered territory, with its capital in the city of Raqqa (previously in Syria).

Having promised to “acknowledge no boundaries,” ISIS worked globally to spread its vision of a political-social order defined by sharia, leveraging social media and disseminating highly produced propaganda articles, magazines, videos.

Having promised loyalty “exclusively to God,” the group took the fight to the enemy: unbelievers. It inspired, fomented, and directed deadly attacks on infidels in London, in Manchester, in Brussels, in Ankara, in San Bernardino, California, in Orlando, Florida. Hit especially hard was Paris. In January 2015, jihadists massacred journalists at Charlie Hebdo and carried out a deadly siege at a kosher supermarket. Then in November, a squad of jihadists shot up sidewalk cafes and set off suicide bombs outside a soccer stadium and at a music venue, killing 130.

But the reaction of many intellectuals and politicians was denial. A common mantra held that the Islamic State has “nothing to do with Islam” — an echo of the Bush administration’s assurance that the 9/11 attackers had hijacked a noble religion. The repetition of this phrase seemed to imply that wishing will make it so.

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Why So Many People Struggle to Gain Self-Esteem

Ayn Rand held that self-esteem is not simply desirable, but an essential value in human life. It is no less important, no less necessary, than food and physical health. And on her view it is something within your direct control to achieve: each of us can attain it. Yet many people find it difficult. Why?

One major factor, which I mentioned in a recent webinar on Rand’s conception of self-esteem, stems from the fact that self-esteem is in part a moral assessment.

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Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Bernie Sanders, Like Donald Trump, Is Hostile To A Free Press

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, like so many of us, is rightly alarmed at President Trump’s “authoritarian bullying of the media.” Trump’s demonization of the media as the “enemy of the people,” Sanders writes, amounts to a “deliberate attempt to destroy the very idea of a free press.” Positioning himself as the anti-Trump on this issue, Sanders has unveiled a plan to save “real journalism.”

Will Sanders’s media plan actually protect the free press?

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Why Ayn Rand Opposed “Extremism”

What is “extremism”? Seems obvious, many people would say: just look at the actions of a white supremacist who shoots up a mosque or synagogue. Or a jihadist’s suicide attack. There are many other vicious acts that we commonly label as “extremism,” which one dictionary defines as “the holding of extreme political or religious views.”

But this term is nowhere near as clear as it seems.

Consider other views that are “extreme” (outermost, farthest from the center, calling for drastic steps). For example, when Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, it was an “extreme” political view to be against monarchy and for individual liberty. At the time of slavery, it was an “extreme” view to be an uncompromising advocate for abolition. And, whereas racism and Islamic totalitarianism are vicious, clearly it is morally right to be for liberty and abolition. But all of these examples — given how the term is commonly used — could be labeled “extremism.”

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Why Rand Was Right to Testify Against Hollywood Communism

In 1947, during what some call the “McCarthy Era,” Ayn Rand was asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on the influence of Communism in Hollywood. She appeared as a “friendly witness.”

The standard verdict on these hearings, and on Rand’s participation, is unequivocal condemnation: The hearings were an inquisition that destroyed the careers of “blacklisted” filmmakers, ruined lives, and trampled the First Amendment. And the “friendly witnesses,” such as Rand, who testified voluntarily, were guilty of abetting an anti-Communist witch hunt.

The only problem with this standard assessment is that it’s totally wrong.

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Photo by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash

The Vice of Nationalism

Nationalism is clawing its way back. At a rally last October, Donald Trump galvanized the audience by declaring himself a proud nationalist. Europe, too, is witnessing the growing influence of political parties advocating nationalism. Even as nationalism has entered the political mainstream, it remains intellectually disreputable.

But Yoram Hazony, a political scholar, wants to redeem nationalism and rehabilitate its reputation. His book The Virtue of Nationalism is bound to resonate with a swath of intellectuals and voters, here and in Europe, who thrill when Trump and other politicians hammer on nationalist themes. Hazony presents a conception of nationalism with soft edges, one that is supposedly compatible with some measure of liberty. And therein lies part of the book’s danger. It is calm, erudite, and theory-heavy. The book attempts to provide a serious, intellectual case for embracing nationalism.

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Photo by Dawid Małecki on Unsplash

What Would A Palestinian State Actually Look Like?

The Trump administration is poised to announce a “Deal of the Century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hints and leaks suggest that the proposal would stop short of endorsing the goal of a sovereign Palestinian state. That prospect has pushed some into mourning.

The Trump plan, writes distinguished American diplomat William Burns, will likely be “a eulogy for the two-state solution.” The administration is about to “bury the only viable plan” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The goal of a Palestinian state is commonly seen as an obvious good – and the fact that it has yet to be realized, a mark of shame for Israel and the United States. But, whatever the actual terms and merits of President Donald Trump’s proposal, we need to question the diplomatic article of faith that Palestinian statehood is necessary for peace.

If you care about justice and the rights of individuals – of Palestinians and Israelis – here is a crucial question seldom asked. What would such a Palestinian state actually look like?

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