”Most of us knew in our bones that things with the world weren’t right, long before it became a crisis.”― Pernell Plath Meier
Note from Addison: During the last two podcasts I have been interviewed for, the subject has come around to historic trends leading to foreseeable outcomes.
One such leading question revolved around the Biden administration’s efforts to combine funding for Ukraine and Israel. Notably, the speech given to the nation on October 8, 2023 from the Oval Office, during which the president begged for money directly from the U.S. people. The second was Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s attempts to bundle US aid for the two conflicts in a speech before the House of Representatives on October 31, 2023.
Our methodology for forecasting in economics and the financial markets applies to politics, as well. You can’t predict the future. But you can see what trends are dominant and reasonably forecast where they will lead.
During the last Republican debate in Miami the candidates on the stage declared that not only are they prepared to go along with the current administration’s agenda, but they’d like to throw a few more conflicts on pyre, as well; China v. Taiwan and Mexican drug cartels flooding the US with fentanyl.
It’s not hard to see where this trend leads if the powers that be are successful in allocating large tranches of the US budget to conflicts external to the US borders. Never mind the grift that goes along with government defense contracts.
What are the chances clearer heads will prevail? We’ll see this week as the House once again wrangles with budgeting for “government” promises that far outpace any dream scenario for funding them.
Another trend, clear to some, but not to many, is the momentum behind “social justice” movements and the drive toward authoritarian extremes at home.
Our current Wiggin Session details Michael Rectenwald’s own conflict with New York University and how the experience led him, circuitously, to become the Libertarian candidate for president. You can watch the full Episode by clicking here.
In today’s guest essay, Michael tells his own story. We learn how he evolved from an avowed Leftist to embracing individual liberty.
We generally try to keep our commentary light, but sometimes the darkness prevails. You can hear add’l forecasts based on our reading of current trends in our Shell Game presentation, if you haven’t done so already. Enjoy.
From Leftism to Liberty, a Personal Journey
by Michael Rectenwald, Libertarian Candidate for President
In the fall of 2016, I began to have deviationist thoughts.
That’s how my thoughts might have been labeled in the Soviet Union anyway—that is, had I lived through the Red Terror, the Stalinist purges, or the Great Terror. In fact, I might have been characterized as a “right deviationist.”
Although I wasn’t living in the Soviet Union, a cultural revolution had been getting underway at home, and I was about to step right into the whirlwind.
I had been a professor of Liberal Studies and Global Liberal Studies at New York University, teaching courses in cultural studies, social and intellectual history, and academic writing. My research had been in nineteenth-century British science and culture, and I had been a scholar of nineteenth-century British Secularism.
I had taught at NYU since 2008.
I had also been a Marxist for nearly 15 years.
In September 2016, I started a new, anonymous Twitter account, the Deplorable NYU Prof—replete with the @AntiPCNYUprof handle and a Friedrich Nietzsche avatar as my profile picture—and began satirizing the Left, identity politics, and recent trends in academia at large. Here’s a small sample of my tweets from the period:
• September 12: “Yes, contemporary identity politics on campuses today is integration in reverse!” (Linked to an article entitled, “California State Offers Segregated Housing for Black Students.”)
• September 16: “I’m a NYU prof who’s seen academe become a sham bc of identity pol & liberal totalitarianism. I’ll tell all soon.”
• September 29: “Liberalism coopts the discourse and techniques of radicalism and turns them into devices of mass manipulation.”
• September 30: “I’ll go Halloweening there as Nietzsche, who’s been trigger-warned out of the curriculum, so no one will get it. What’s yr costume idea?” (Linked to article entitled, “Penn State to costume-shame students with poster campaign.”)
• October 11: “The identity politics left: they need a safe space that is at once a hall of mirrors and a rubber room.” (Referring to displays of narcissism by SJWs as well as to their demands for protection from “discursive violence.”)
Within 48 hours of my Twitter escapades making the news, NYU administrators coerced me into a leave of absence and my colleagues on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Group dubbed me a thought criminal, literally declaring me “guilty for the content and structure of [my] thinking.”
By the end of the academic year, I was treated by several colleagues to a barrage of bilious and defamatory emails on an official NYU listserv. They called me racist, sexist, misogynist, alt-right, fascist, Nazi, short-pants white devil, and Satan, among other choice epithets.
My exile included having my office moved to the Russian Department. My new outpost was spartan, with empty metal shelves (the university refused to move my books), no telephone, no name on the door, and the Russian Department faculty apparently instructed to avoid me at all costs.
I was shunned by my Liberal Studies colleagues and treated like a pariah on campus. In short, I had been sent to my own personal gulag.
After my run-in with the social justice warriors at NYU, the members of Insurgent Notes, a “left communist” group with which I was loosely affiliated, effectively subjected me to a cyber-show trial. They accused me of any number of infractions, not the least of which was appearing on conservative talk shows and sounding remotely like a member of a rival political clan. Before they could excommunicate me from the group, I told them not to bother; I quit. Thousands of Facebook friends unfriended and blocked me. Altogether, it seemed, the Left had completely “un-personned” me.
In the spring of 2018, I sued NYU and five colleagues for libel and defamation, but my attorneys could not overcome the motion to dismiss by NYU’s army of attorneys. So, I invited Milo Yiannopolous to speak in my classroom for a special talk on the politics of Halloween.
The pandemonium was incredible—all over a scheduled classroom appearance in which Milo was to speak to 14 of my students about how people can change their genders by the day, but others couldn’t wear a Halloween costume for a single night. Student groups wrote me and said I was putting them in danger. Antifa NYC put a target on my back, threatening to kill me. NYU administrators sent emails to the entire university population apologizing but saying that they couldn’t stop the talk because of “academic freedom.”
Finally, the mayor of New York, then Bill de Blasio, called NYU and canceled the event for “security reasons.” This was all quite stressful for me, but it brought NYU back to the negotiating table and they offered me a settlement if I surrendered my position.
At the time, I thought that I was merely voicing criticisms of the excesses and insanity of a Left that had become utterly alien to me, seemingly overnight. Little did I know that I was on the brink of a complete philosophical, political, and spiritual transformation.
But I had now described the inherent authoritarianism of Marxism and leftism in general. I recognized, contrary to Marx’s animadversions of utopian socialism, that all socialism is utopian, and that utopianism is just totalitarianism in waiting. There’s no way to establish some people’s idea of utopia without squelching if not obliterating other people’s rights. I saw the same characteristics in the Left in general and became a civil libertarian, advocating for individual rights above all else. I then began to study the history of communism with a critical eye, starting with the Bolshevik Revolution and continuing with the exportation of Bolshevik variants to Eastern Europe and Asia. In attempting to research leftist political criminality, I was both amazed and enraged at how the academy had buried much of the history. For example, searches in academic research databases for the practices of “struggle sessions” and “autocritique,” which were so prevalent during the Cultural Revolution in China, and which have seen a resurgence in the West, yielded next to nothing.
These and related topics were either not treated or else simply disappeared. I suspected that a vast coverup had been undertaken. I needed to turn to other sources.
My defection from Marxism and embrace of libertarianism began with the criticism of political totalitarianism, but it soon included the economic debunking of socialism. It was in early 2017 that someone recommended that I read Ludwig von Mises.
This was the first time I’d ever heard of Mises, despite all my time in higher education, or likely because of it.
I began with Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis.
I found Mises’s trenchant analysis of Marxist rhetorical tactics—his exposure of the polylogism of Marxism, his demonstration that Marx evaded the scientific analysis of socialism by means of ad hominem attacks on critics as “bourgeois”—right on the mark. Mises’s analysis of ownership—in particular, his argument that consumers hold the power of economic disposal and in effect are the owners of the means of production under capitalism—was thoroughly convincing. Of course, Mises’s treatment of the calculation problem proved devastating to socialism.
Further, Mises showed that the inevitability that Marxism claims for socialism is metaphysical and religious in character. It draws on and immanentizes millennialist Christianity and is by no means “scientific”:
Now as a theory of progress, going beyond experience and what can be experienced, the materialist conception of history is not science but metaphysics…These theories are based generally on the assumption of a paradisiac origin, a Golden Age, from which man is moving farther and farther away, only to return finally to an equally good, or, if possible, even better, age of perfection. This generally includes the idea of Salvation. The return of the Golden Age will save men from the ills which have befallen them in an age of evil. Thus the whole doctrine is a message of earthly salvation…
In so far as “scientific” Socialism is metaphysics, a chiliastic promise of salvation, it would be vain and superfluous to argue scientifically against it.
It serves no useful purpose to fight mystical dogmas with reason. There is no teaching fanatics. They must break their heads against the wall
Thankfully, by the time I read this passage, I had already broken my head against the wall. The blinders of Marxism and leftism had fallen away, and I’d felt the liberation quite viscerally. I could now think, write, and speak freely, without concern that I might be in violation of a crusty, erroneous, and oppressive doctrine—or the dictates of an academic tribunal for that matter.
Marxists are not allowed to think.
They merely learn the “correct” positions on any number of issues and become versed in rehashing these points, ad nauseam. Those days were over—for me at least.
While I relinquished my academic career, I have since established myself as a public intellectual of sorts; I am a special contributor to the Mises Institute Wire, am invited to give talks on conservative college campuses and elsewhere, give media interviews regularly, and continue to author books—four since 2018. I’m now working on another book, my twelfth, this one a libertarian analysis of the Great Reset project.
Most if not all my former academic friends have turned against me, including my dissertation director, who was a friend but now will not answer my emails. He once called me his “best student.” I lost my love interest of 13 years to the social justice crowd and third-wave feminism. I had some difficult times with my daughter, who chastised me for my ribald criticisms of the Left, while my two sons have followed me on the libertarian path. I have gained a whole new cadre of friends, people capable of understanding the difference between right libertarianism and fascism, for example.
The libertarian community has been most welcoming, making me wonder how and why I ever spent so much time as a Marxist. My libertarian reading diet has widened to include Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, among others, although I remain skeptical of full-on anarcho-capitalism.
I have, however, become what I call a “hip Hoppean”—a countercultural, pro-liberty voice in the lineage of Mises, Rothbard, and Hoppe. I believe, with Hoppe, that libertarianism is most compatible with cultural conservatism. Property rights accord with the structures of a stable social order based on the household, and vice versa. The protection of property both reinforces and is reinforced by a society based on the natural order.
All forms of Leftism involve attempts to uproot and destroy this natural order. But it is essential for ensuring personal liberty and human flourishing.
In closing, I would like to say that I didn’t leave the Left.
The Left left me.
Or, rather, the Left righted me. By this, I don’t mean to suggest that leftists had turned me into a right-winger.
They didn’t have that power. I mean that they opened my eyes and allowed me to see rightly. In trying to correct me, they did indeed correct me—but not as they’d hoped. They corrected my vision by forcibly dislodging the scales of their ideology from my eyes.
To our freedom,
Libertarian Candidate for President
P.S. from Addison: The political trend toward authoritarian-ism has as its counterpart in the drive toward liberty. Battle lines have been drawn. Do you think they’re necessary? Please write in with your opinions by clicking here.