Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Lopsided Defense of Human Freedom

Lopsided Defense of Freedom

Tibor R. Machan

For many moons now I have been reading The New York Review of Books,
mainly because it is educational and gives me a good perspective on how
the most snooty of the Left view themselves. In a most recent issue one
Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist, sounds off in unabashedly moralistic
terms about how important freedom is to the writer. In his Arthur Miller
Freedom to Write Memorial Lecture Mr. Pamuk ruminates at some length,
among other matters, about what can only be considered self-censorship by
authors who write in countries where freedom of expression is legally
curtailed. And he offers some very interesting insights. At one point he
notes, ?I have personally known writers who have chosen to raise forbidden
topics purely because they were forbidden. I think I am no different.
Because when another writer in another house in not free, no writer is
free. This, indeed, is the spirit that informs the solidarity felt by PEN
[the international organization of writers], by writers all over the

What is interesting about this is that PEN and its supporters, including
Mr. Pamuk and The New York Review of Books, seem to have no clue about how
selective they are about advancing human liberty. They stand up
righteously in defense of writers who are oppressed, which, of course, is
a good thing. But they seem to be clueless about how their crusade is
thoroughly or vested interested.

It is no secret that aside from artists, including writers, there are
millions of people around the globe who are oppressed, who are not
permitted to do their work as they judge proper. Formers, merchants,
engineers, autoworkers, shop keepers, and so forth?the list could go on
endlessly. But PEN & Co. seem to find their own cause exceptional, as if
the liberty of human beings who do not write really does not matter much.

Consider, for example, that The New York Review of Books is notoriously
anti-business, anti-capitalist. The very same issue in which Mr. Pamuk
sounds off so eloquently in support of the freedom to write contains a
piece by Andrew Hacker, the Queens University political scientist?a
relentless foe of free enterprise?lamenting the prevalence of the wealthy
among us.

Hacker?s piece, ?The Rich and Everyone Else,? is an interesting
discussion of several books that make much of the concept of ?class? in
how they view American society. And Hacker quite wisely concludes his
examination of these books with a criticism of the idea that class
analysis?a famous Marxian tool for understanding society?makes much sense
in this country.

Nevertheless, Hacker is fully on board with the authors of the books he
is reviewing about how terrible American society is when it comes to
equality. As he states in his final paragraph, ?Economic inequality is
increasing [in America], just as the millions who are born and stay poor
are not getting anything like a fair chance to improve their situation.?

Au contraire! Were Professor Hacker to take his eyes of the pages of The
New York Review of Books (and the politically charged works of authors
rolled out in every issue of the magazine) and take a peak at the work of
Thomas Sowell and other economists, he would know that compared to Europe
and most other countries around the globe, the American economy is a
relatively vibrant market place in which the poor tend to remain poor for
about 5 years, on average, no longer.

But never mind this. Professor Hacker is just one of the many writers in
The New York Review of Books who champion a highly regimented economic
order that already oppresses and would increase the oppression of millions
of people in the business world. His support of a welfare state even more
extensive that what we have today, as well as the support provided by such
luminaries as Professor Ronald Dworkin and a host of others, clearly
amount to denying freedom to trade to millions whose life depends on that
line of work. Why should writers, those in the market place of ideas, have
their liberty vigorously defended but merchants, professionals in
business?those in the market place of goods and services?be left
regimented by a bunch of bureaucrats?

It is always interesting to observe how some of the folks most hailed for
their erudition and brilliance, get themselves caught in logical
conundrums. Yet that is exactly what the folks at The New York Review of
Books are doing in spades, what with their supposed defense of human
liberty for some people but support of human regulation and manipulation
for others.

Still, I suppose, it is better to have Mr. Pamuk and Co. defend the
freedom to write, even if they seem to give not a hoot about the freedom
to do other equally important things. At least this bit of human freedom
will have some champions, even in The New York Review of Books. Yet just
as it is true, as Mr. Pamuk points out, that ?when another writer in
another house in not free, no writer is free,? it is also true that when
another human being in another house in not free, no human being is free.

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