One Small Step for Dictatorship: The Significance of Donald Trump’s Election

by Onkar Ghate | November 17, 2016

American exceptionalism is real.

The United States is founded on a political philosophy, and a profoundly revolutionary one at that. The Declaration of Independence expresses the viewpoint eloquently: that individuals possess “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The Statue of Liberty symbolizes this vision, beckoning all who yearn to breathe free. The United States, having discarded most forms of tyranny, and having fought a bloody civil war over its toleration of the glaring, depressing exception of slavery, is more than the land of liberty. It’s a land where you shouldn’t even be able to imagine a dictator arising. The people will too jealously demand and too jealously guard their freedom.

Ayn Rand, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the midst of the nation’s political-cultural chaos, offered a fascinating comparison between the European and the American mind. “A European,” she wrote, “is disarmed in the face of a dictatorship: he may hate it, but he feels that he is wrong and, metaphysically, the State is right. An American would rebel to the bottom of his soul.”

No matter what the nation’s current problems, therefore, she said one thing is certain: “a dictatorship cannot take hold in America today. . . . Defiance, not obedience, is the American’s answer to overbearing authority.”

But, Rand cautioned, if “America drags on in her present state for a few more generations (which is unlikely),” the American spirit would further erode, and “dictatorship will become possible.”

On November 8, 2016, the United States took its first step toward dictatorship.

If that statement strikes you as blatantly false or as at best hyperbolic and unconstructive, I urge you to read on.

My argument is not that Donald Trump possesses the full mentality of a dictator. Some or even much of what he said during the campaign may perhaps have been in jest, a reality-TV personality’s attempt to shock, to entertain and to thereby gain billions of dollars’ worth of free media airtime. This appears to be Holman Jenkins’s reading in The Wall Street Journal. Trump, he writes, “was inventing almost daily a new episode of the 16-month Trump-for-president reality show to keep his audience from drifting off.”

You can also find family, friends and colleagues of Trump who attest that behind closed doors he is a different person, more measured, more thoughtful, more inquisitive, less bigoted, less prone to be triggered by the slightest of slights.

I admit that I have severe doubts about such a characterization of Trump. His Twitter rants; the fact that it is believable that the motivation for his run for the presidency was Obama mocking him at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner; the self-centeredness and second-handedness, in which he constantly compares himself to others; the sexism and the joking about sexual assault, or, obviously much worse, the actual committing of it; the demands for “loyalty”; the inability to admit his own errors and injustices, instead doubling down on his arbitrary assertions and attacks; his admiration for dictators like Putin; and his obsession with “winning,” with “getting even” and with maintaining a constantly evolving list of enemies; none of this generates confidence. But my argument does not hinge on Trump’s actual character, as awful as that may be.

Nor is my argument that Trump in office will be able constantly to wield dictatorial powers, however much he may desire to do so, as when he ominously threatens to trample on the First Amendment by persecuting media companies that disagree with him, like The Washington Post and its owner, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The original American structure of government, devised by giants like Madison and designed in part specifically to check the ambitions and powers of an aspiring dictator, will prove a bulwark. (Although admittedly today there exist many structural worries; Ezra Klein points to one non-obvious one.)

A Trump administration, if viewed out of the full context, may even enact some measures others and I would regard as positive, including improvements to the tax code and replacement of Obamacare with something less harmful. But it will be in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. And even at this concrete level of policy, the Republican control of the presidency, the House and the Senate should give anyone pause who is concerned about, say, the campaign’s demonization of immigrants and of trade or the attempt to impose a Christian variant of Sharia law.

There is little doubt, for instance, that a Trump administration will try to appoint Supreme Court justices who, in defiance of the Constitution’s separation of church and state, will seek to undermine reproductive rights by imposing Christian religious dogmas on the country.

It is also important to recall that a king’s court is often more tyrannical than the king, whose public visibility often forces him to maintain a modicum of decency and justice. As of today, the talk is of appointing seasoned authoritarians like Rudy Giuliani and Jeff Sessions to positions of power.

But as destructive to freedom as I think a Trump administration is likely to be, this is also not my point.

My argument is that Trump publicly projected the mentality, methods and campaign of a would-be dictator—however much it may have been an act and however difficult it may be to enact specific decrees—and that he won the presidency because of this.

The issue is not Trump the person or what he might do to the country while in office. (Though these are important concerns.) The issue is what the success of his campaign reveals about the country.

It is of course true that not everyone who voted for Trump did so for identical reasons; indeed, many voters voted not for Trump but against Hillary, and there is ample reason to dread her ascendancy to the presidency.

But it is wrong to whitewash the campaign as Jenkins does in his article, calling Trump’s performance “the upbeat, improvisational show” most of his fan base “were waiting for.”

It is also wrong to think that the campaign’s success stems mainly from supporters’ reasonable responses to real grievances, among the most significant of which are the country’s ever-increasing economic controls, the conformist demands for political correctness and the failure honestly to confront Islamic totalitarianism.

Worries about economic controls and economic stagnation do exist, but there is much evidence to suggest they do not explain Trump’s support; here’s some of that evidence. Besides, Trump often implied a whole new set of economic controls on foreign trade, immigration and outsourcing. So the desire is to repeal controls supposedly unfavorable to “my people” (as Trump often refers to them) and instead impose crippling controls on others, labeled outsiders.

And in regard to the current problematic norms about political correctness and discussion of Islamic totalitarianism, what better way is there to convince sensible people across the political spectrum that these norms are in fact necessary, than Trump’s pronouncements about, say, Muslims, Hispanics and women’s genitalia? If Trump is what it means to face the threat posed by Islamic totalitarianism, who wants to go down that road? If Trump is what the absence of political correctness looks like, who wants to discard it?

The grim facts are that the campaign was designed to appeal to base sentiments and that it succeeded in major part because of this.

Consider some of the campaign’s mantras, slogans and strategies, which together echoed the methods and voice of dictators through the ages.

To begin, Trump painted a false picture of America, where everything is in decline and everything is a “disaster,” with no prospect of sunlight to dispel the darkness. To be sure, there are real and important problems in the country, but Trump spoke as if Silicon Valley and the age of the Internet had never occurred, producing previously unimagined products available to all Americans, even if their wages have stagnated. The progress in quality of life over the last few decades is real and widespread. It’s not as though only California, New York and the so-called elites enjoy iPhones, Google Maps, Netflix, YouTube, Uber, Airbnb and Facebook, leaving middle and rural America oppressed and desolate, like District 12 in The Hunger Games.

Next, and crucially, to this America engulfed in darkness, Trump offered up scapegoats responsible for our misery. Like communists demonizing the bourgeoisie, Nazis demonizing the Jews, socialists demonizing owners of private property, and egalitarians demonizing the one percent, Trump demonized Hispanics, immigrants, journalists, free traders, elites, Muslims (all Muslims, not just supporters of Islamic totalitarianism), the “mainstream” media, among other groups. They, he said or implied, are the source of all of our struggles. Get rid of them, and America gets rid of all her problems.

How are we to get rid of this sundry list of scapegoats? Through political power. More precisely, by handing Trump whatever political power he deems necessary to make America great again. He, somehow and singularly, knows what to do. “I alone,” Trump declared, “can fix it.”

What would Trump do in power? No one knew, including Trump and his supporters. He said he would negotiate and deal with everyone on everything. All any of us could know is that, somehow, these would be the greatest deals we had ever seen. Trump has no abstract, political principles or even any firm policies or political views. And when he spoke of specific actions he would take, which themselves were often inconsistent with one another, few of his supporters actually believed him. A small sampling: he would build a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexican border and, somehow, make Mexico pay for it; he would, or maybe he wouldn’t, withdraw from NATO; he would be mercilessly tough with Putin and simultaneously have a great relationship with him—in fact, maybe it would be good if Russia electronically hacked America even more; he would, or maybe he wouldn’t, ban all Muslims from entering the country.

Billionaire Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter, stated it perfectly as he reiterated the formulations of some earlier commentators: those “who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally.” This indeed is what Trump’s campaign seemed to expect of its supporters. It is also what every dictator expects.

Trump in his campaign projected himself as unconstrained by any previous statements or commitments he had made, unconstrained by any facts, unconstrained by the truth. This was not just the routine flip-flopping of today’s politician. A presidential candidate who regularly indulges in conspiracy theories like the birther smear of President Obama is in a different and new league. A candidate who, after the disturbing recording of his disgusting remarks to Billy Bush surfaced, can go on television before millions of Americans and declare that “no one respects women more than me, no one,” projects a special pride in being above the facts, which limit other mortals but not him.

And too many of Trump’s supporters, driven by fears that he himself had helped inflame, and fixated on scapegoats, admired him for precisely this attitude.

Most political campaigns today are vacuous. Think of Obama’s slogans of hope and change. What kind of change? Change you can believe in. But Trump’s campaign was of a different order. Trump would drain the swamps, smash a rigged system, and make America great again. How would this dramatic upheaval occur? Trump consistently and proudly defied the need to be pinned down by anything, including the platforms and positions of the Republican Party. When Trump answered to the question of whether he would accept the election’s result if he were to lose, that America would have to wait and see, he captured the entire flavor of his campaign. Hand Donald Trump power—and wait to see what he does with it. As Jenkins encapsulates it, Trump’s “platform comes down to ‘trust me’—a remarkable mandate if you can pull it off.”

But this is not a mandate. It is the demand for a blank check on political power, a check which heretofore Americans had been unwilling to sign. Not this time.

The fact that Trump will be unable fully to exercise this power does not change the nature of the demand or of the grant.

Even more worrisome, this follow-the-leader authoritarianism is not a disease confined to Trump’s campaign, to the Republican Party or even to the so-called right. It appears to run deep in the veins of the country, infecting also independents, Democrats and the so-called left. It was clearly discernible, for instance, among some of the fervent supporters of Bernie Sanders.

Writing in January 2016, a student of political science warned that Trump’s support had likely not crested because of widespread authoritarian sentiments in the American population, including among Democrat-leaning and independent voters. (The proxies these political scientists use to measure authoritarianism are certainly debatable.)

Perhaps the most disturbing poll of the election came out in April 2016. In a Quinnipiac University National poll of registered voters, when asked whether “America needs a powerful political leader that will save us from the problems we face,” a majority, 54%, strongly agreed, and 26% somewhat agreed. For those leaning toward Hillary, it was 45% and 29%; for those leaning toward Sanders, 43% and 32%; and for those leaning toward Trump, 83% and 13%. When asked whether “What we need is a leader who is willing to say or do anything to solve America’s problems,” 27% of registered voters strongly agreed and 26% somewhat agreed. For those leaning toward Hillary it was 20% and 17%; for those leaning toward Sanders, 17% and 25%; and for those leaning toward Trump, 54% and 30%.

Pause on those numbers. Let them sink it. And then let me offer two incidents that I think drive home the meaning of those numbers.

In November 2015 I spoke at an ARI-sponsored event during AM560’s Freedom Summit in Chicago, which attracts fans of talk radio; Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity were among the headliners. An informal poll of attendees at the start of the conference indicated that about 40 percent were supporters of Trump. I spoke about immigration. Early in my talk I mentioned Nancy Pelosi’s incredulity when she was asked where in the Constitution is Congress granted the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate; her response to the questioner: “Are you serious?” The anecdote drew laughter. A few moments later I asked where in the Constitution does it authorize building a wall to keep out immigrants whom Americans want to hire. At that point all hell broke loose.

Some members of the audience stood up and started reciting speeches to try to drown me out, and many others shouted and jeered. At one point a woman, looking me up on the Internet, asked me if I was Canadian, to which I replied Yes; she proceeded to declare to the crowd something to the effect of “Why should we listen to him, he’s an immigrant from Canada!” (I politely inquired whether she thought the validity of my argument depended on the color of my passport.) A few people in the audience were scared for my safety and contacted hotel security. Immediately after the talk a few embarrassed members of the audience came up to me and said that the crowd’s reaction reminded them of the behavior of spoiled college students, behavior they all supposedly decry. Indeed, the only other times I have encountered such mindless opposition is on some college campuses when speaking about the Danish Cartoons crisis and Islamic totalitarianism.

Now the second incident. In January 2016 at a campaign stop in Sioux Center, Iowa, Donald Trump half joked that he has “the most loyal people. . . . I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone [an immigrant? a journalist?] and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay. It’s like incredible.”

Although the audience laughed, it was no joke. Perhaps more than anyone else, Trump understood the special nature of much of his political support. To those clamoring for a leader who will say or do anything to save them, he promised to play the role.

This is what it looks like for a growing portion of the populace to be ready to welcome a dictator.

What this election exposes is that the distinctively American spirit, which would brook no tyrant, has, as Ayn Rand feared, continued to erode.

The causes of the erosion, all philosophic in origin, are numerous. Too many of us today are uneducated or mis-educated, deceived by anti-Enlightenment ideas that have now been dominant in our educational institutions for more than a century. “Knowledge is power,” said Francis Bacon. This is profoundly true. It is only genuine knowledge of the world and of the self that gives us a sense of control over our own lives and confidence in planning and achieving our own path to happiness. But with too many schools devastated by progressive education, too few of us achieve this intellectual state. And even if we try, when we reach college age we are met all too often with multiculturalism and other theories that teach that our identity comes from membership in some group and that, powerless, our fate is actually determined by forces outside our control. The doctrines of collectivism and determinism are the fertile ground that scapegoating requires.

“We couldn’t help it!” the various versions of determinism encourage us to plead. If only the external factors that are responsible for wrecking our lives and country were eliminated—the bourgeoisie, the Jews, immigrants, bankers, the one percent—all would be well. It’s no accident that it was not free will, reason and individualism that the tyrannies of the twentieth century preached, but some form of racial, ethnic or economic collectivism and determinism.

With American educational institutions no longer teaching the Enlightenment foundation of America, the major way the American spirit endures is through the practice and love of business. “The chief business of the American people,” Coolidge rightly said, “is business.” What area of the country—not in expressed viewpoint or political affiliation but in spirit—is more quintessentially American than Silicon Valley? The optimism, the dynamism, the initiative, the merging of abstract theory with money-making practice, the can-do attitude and the calculated risk-taking that the Valley encourages and rewards—this is the spirit that made America the world’s leading nation.

But this vitality is now concentrated in Silicon Valley and the technology sector because too many other industries and areas of the country and of life are controlled by the regulatory-welfare state. Hemmed in by the FDA, the FCC, the SEC, the EPA, and the rest of the alphabet soup of regulatory agencies, too many of us genuinely feel out of full control of our lives. And coddled by the welfare state, too many of us fail to develop a robust sense of personal responsibility and pride in the most life-affirming of activities: productive work.

There is a further important cause that we must be willing to face: religion. Most analysts expressed bewilderment at the considerable support that Trump received from evangelicals. If you conceive of the appeal of religion as primarily doctrinal—that followers have been persuaded that their religion is true and that the doctrines of other religions are false—the support is bewildering, because Trump didn’t share many of their particular dogmas. But if you recognize that the attraction of religion stems much more from the mentality it encourages and the psychological environment among believers that it fosters—if you recognize that the particular dogmas are almost accidental, that, for example, most evangelicals would be Muslims if born to Muslim parents or born in a Muslim-majority country, and vice versa for most Muslims—then Trump’s allure to evangelicals should have been expected.

Trump’s call for blind, unquestioning followers, his trafficking in conspiracy theories and disregard for facts and science, his claim that we are close to the end of days and that he, unerring and alone, can save us, his promise of miracles like building a wall and making Mexico pay for it—all of this and more should be seen as attractive to a religious mindset, especially of a fundamentalist variety. The content of Trump’s comments was not unimportant, particularly his list of enemies and scapegoats, but nor was it the primary source of his appeal.

And the fact is that this growing religious mindset is incompatible with the American spirit of independence and individualism.

But although these and many other forces have contributed to the erosion of the American spirit, it is not gone. Running against, in Sam Harris’s words, such “a terribly flawed candidate” as Hillary, against whom many people were voting, Trump did not win the popular vote. More importantly, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, from virtually all reports, were the most despised candidates and choice for president in recent American history. This is good news. It offers hope for a brighter future.

The success of the Trump campaign will no doubt make the journey harder. It will make it even easier to dismiss truly pro-freedom, pro-American self-defense positions as bigoted and anti-intellectual. And just as the creeping authoritarianism of the Obama administration helped pave the road for Trump, and as the Republican Party’s embrace of religious fundamentalists encouraged the Democratic Party to also get religion and bring it into politics, so now the Republican Party’s embrace of a demagogue will encourage the Democratic Party to run similar candidates. There were elements of demagoguery in Sanders’s campaign and in the blind infatuation of many of his supporters, and one lesson the Democratic Party is likely to draw is that Sanders had a better chance of defeating Trump than did Hillary.

But for any admirer or fan of Ayn Rand’s vision and ideas, the job ahead is clear. We need to help both ourselves and our fellow citizens grasp, when so many of us are disillusioned but not yet ready to succumb to dictatorship, that we can solve our own problems. There is a better way, there is a shining, positive vision for America offered in the pages of Atlas Shrugged.

To attain it, we need to discard the empty slogans of the Republicans and the Democrats and to replace today’s intellectual bankruptcy with real ideas. There are many Americans fed up with the tribal, regressive nature of so much of the right and left. What we all need to gain is a deeper, fuller understanding of the idea of America and its philosophic roots in the not-yet-fully-realized promise of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason.

The task ahead is a long-term and educational one. Nobody said it would be easy. It is, perhaps, harder than anyone of us had thought.

But it wasn’t easy to create America, either.

That noble idea should remain a beacon. In Ayn Rand’s final words of advice, “Don’t Let It Go.

Image: “Make_America_Great_Again_hat_(27149010964).jpg” by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons / Cropped from original

About The Author

Onkar Ghate

Chief Philosophy Officer and Senior Fellow, Ayn Rand Institute

After This Jordanian Criticized ISIS He Was Thrown In Jail Then Murdered

by Elan Journo | November 17, 2016 | The Federalist

The centrality of Islam in Middle East politics can be seen in laws and opinion polls, but that data fails to capture just how entwined Islam and state really are and the destructive effects that ensue. The persecution of a Jordanian writer who shared a cartoon on Facebook dramatizes the problem.

The story’s location is important. With the exception of Israel, the Middle East is thick with dictatorships, theocracies, and monarchies. Compared with Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and many other Muslim regimes, Jordan is somewhat liberal and friendly (it is at least officially a U.S. ally).

By objective standards, however, the kingdom of Jordan is a paranoid authoritarian regime. The secret police, modeled after the Soviet’s KGB, are everywhere. “Insulting” the king is a serious crime (punishment: three years in jail). So is affronting Islam, the state religion.

Enter the protagonist: Nahed Hattar, a prominent Jordanian writer and political activist. Recently he posted a cartoon drawing on Facebook to satirize the barbarians of the Islamic State. The Washington Post reports that the image depicts

a bearded man, lying in bed under sheets, smoking contentedly beside two women in paradise and jabbing his finger toward God, who asks, ‘Do you need anything?’ The man replies, ‘Yes, Lord, bring me wine, cashews and an immortal servant to come clean the floor.’

In reaction was an “across-the-board” backlash as Jordanians took to Facebook and Twitter to harass him. The author’s cousin said “Many fanatics wrote on social media calling for his killing and lynching.” There were some 200 death threats.

Few listened to Hattar when he hastened to explain the cartoon’s meaning. The point was to skewer the warped beliefs of the jihadists of Islamic State. The cartoon was intended, he said, to mock “how they imagine God and heaven, and does not insult God in any way.”

Despite clarifying what the cartoon meant, Hattar decided to remove the image from Facebook, apologized for posting it, and then proceeded to shut down his Facebook account altogether. Never mind the apology, one of al-Qaeda’s leading ideologues tweeted, he’s still an infidel. The obvious implication: he should be killed for his blasphemy.

The Jordanian government came after Hattar. He was arrested and held for two weeks, then released on bail pending his trial. Almost certainly, he faced a jail sentence.

What makes the story doubly chilling is that a sizeable number of people thought even jail was not enough.

What happened at trial? The legal proceedings never got that far. When Hattar arrived at a courthouse in the capital city of Amman, someone was lying in wait for him. A bearded man — an imam — fired three shots. So, in broad daylight on the courthouse steps, a religious vigilante executed Hattar.

It’s bad enough that the Jordanian government arrested Hattar, charged him, and was about to throw the book at him for sharing a cartoon on Facebook (a cartoon, remember, that jabs the Islamic State). What makes the story doubly chilling is that a sizeable number of people thought even jail was not enough.

Many threatened Hattar’s life, and one imam murdered him, presumably because he deemed the Jordanian regime insufficiently pious to hand down a punishment fitting Hattar’s crime. Days later, an Egyptian TV commentator went on the air to declare his support — not for Hattar, but for his executioner. The blasphemer had it coming.

Consider just some of the implications here. Perhaps the TV commentator really believed Hattar deserved execution. Or perhaps he was posturing as virtuous by praising something he thinks his viewers and fans admire. Maybe his impetus was some combination of the two? None of those possibilities belong in a civilized society.

Hattar’s story provides a window into a region where Islam not only permeates cultural life, but is entwined with state power. Only when we fully grasp that reality can we begin to make sense of the region’s endemic conflicts, upheavals, and oppression.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Inequality Doesn't Matter If We’re All Paid According to the Value We Create

by Don Watkins and Yaron Brook | October 18, 2016 | City A.M.

Log on to Netflix and you can catch old episodes of Dirty Jobs, where you can watch host Mike Rowe visit plumbers, pig farmers, and steel mill workers and try his hand at some of the less sexy but utterly fascinating jobs that help make the world around us possible.

All of these people work incredibly hard, and it might raise a question in your mind — a question that is central to today’s debate over inequality: why is it that they earn far less than chief executives, investment bankers, or A-list actors?

The answer is that, in a free market, people don’t get paid for the effort they exert but for the value that they create.

Think about author JK Rowling, who became a billionaire from her wildly popular Harry Potter series. Rowling certainly worked hard — but so do thousands of other authors who struggle to find an audience. The difference is that millions of people value Rowling’s work. They were willing to turn over £10 or £15 for each Harry Potter novel, because the pleasure they got from those books exceeded the price tag.

It was irrelevant to them whether Rowling suffered writer’s block and spent sleepless nights agonizing at her desk, or whether she effortlessly poured out a hundred pages a day of perfect prose. It was the value that mattered.

The notion that people should get paid for hard work, rather than valuable work, may sound nice to some in the abstract, but in practice it would mean that a hair stylist who struggles to line up your sideburns should get paid more than the master who can give you the best hair cut of your life without breaking a sweat. It would mean that a sleep-deprived waiter deserves a bigger tip than one who is equally competent, but who turned down the opportunity to party the night before.

To be sure, creating value does require hard work, and many of the people who earn headline-making incomes exert enormous mental effort: from the Silicon Valley entrepreneur to the superstar athlete to the award-winning heart surgeon. They may make success seem easy, but if it were easy, everyone would do it. Even so, effort alone, although deserving of our praise and admiration, doesn’t imply anything about how big a person’s paycheck should be.

Don’s wife, for instance, is a teacher — a really good one, if he may say so himself — and she probably works as hard as many FTSE 100 chief executives. But she’s providing a service to only a handful of students each year. The chief executives are creating value for millions and even billions of people. It would be absurd for her to earn anything close to what they make.

A paycheck is the result of a trade, and what we trade are the values we create. The more you have to offer, the more you can get in return.

That’s why it’s ridiculous to complain about the income inequality that emerges from free, voluntary transactions. Rowling increased inequality when she became a billionaire, but she did so by making millions of people better off — and anyone who didn’t like her books didn’t have to pay her a penny.

That’s the pattern we see all over the economy. Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg may have billions in the bank, but their fortunes didn’t come at the expense of their customers or employees or society at large. They prospered by doing something enormously valuable — by running companies that enriched the lives of everyone who chose to deal with them. It was win/win all around.

Unfortunately, today, not everyone is getting paid for the value they create. Too many are getting paid for the government favors they can extract. Widespread cronyism in the form of bailouts, subsidies, and other special privileges can increase inequality. But the problem isn’t the inequality — it’s the win/lose nature of cronyism. When people get rich through government favors, it comes at the expense of taxpayers, buyers, and competitors. The solution isn’t to fight income inequality, but to stop cronyism. We shouldn’t punish value creators for the sins of cronies.

Fighting high pay at the top has, for some, become “the defining challenge of our time,” to quote US President Barack Obama. But following that path would be a double disgrace. A just society shouldn’t punish people for prospering — and if it does, it shouldn’t be surprised if it finds that there is less prosperity.

Today America is seeing a decline in its rate of economic progress, and the same could be said of Great Britain too. It is the top value creators who drive human progress, and the real defining challenge of our time is how to liberate the pursuit of productive achievement while eliminating political influence-peddling. That’s going to require some genuinely hard work.

About The Authors

Don Watkins

Former Fellow (2006-2017), Ayn Rand Institute

Yaron Brook

Chairman of the Board, Ayn Rand Institute

15 Years After 9/11, We Still Don’t Understand The Enemy

by Elan Journo | September 11, 2016 | The Federalist

Many of us who lived through 9/11 remember one nightmare scenario: to have our daily lives clouded by the persistent threat of jihadist attacks. Fifteen years later, that’s our world: San Bernardino. Brussels. Orlando. Paris. Garland, Texas. Nice. Charlie Hebdo.

The story of how we got here is dense with tragedy, as Onkar Ghate and I discuss in our new book Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond. A crucial part of the story has been the failure — indeed, the refusal — of our political and intellectual leaders to understand the enemy.

Can you imagine America achieving victory in World War II had we viewed the enemy as “Kamikazi-ism” rather Japanese totalitarianism? Regardless, following 9/11 the nature of the enemy was widely misunderstood, and 14 years later things have gotten worse.

The problem goes way beyond ignorance. Ignorance is where everyone starts out. But the jihadists have never made their cause secret. Our enemy is defined, not primarily by their use of terrorist means, but by their ideological ends. They fight to create a society wherein Islamic religious law, or sharia, dominates every last detail of every individual’s life, a cause inspired and funded by patrons such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and above all, Iran. In our book, we call this political-ideological movement Islamic totalitarianism.

Still, many people cling to a self-induced ignorance about the nature of the enemy. Some even seek to silence any serious discussion of the problem, often by hurling about accusations of “Islamophobia.” But this just obscures the issue, fencing it off as taboo, and maligning whoever looks for answers.

It’s Not Merely a Global War on Terror

Start with 9/12: From the get-go, George W. Bush took every opportunity to evade the nature of Islamic totalitarianism. Bush insisted “the terrorists have no home in any faith.” He hammered at that theme endlessly, despite the abundant evidence they really did view themselves as emulating Mohammad in imposing Islamic law by force, everywhere.

A consequence of this evasion was the embarrassing semantic waltz over what to name the enemy: “Terrorists”? “Haters”? Simply “al-Qaeda”? The vague tag “Islamofascism” was floated, but quickly discarded because it edged too close to the truth. So we ended up waging a nebulous “Global War on Terror.” Even more telling was that Bush’s war left arch-sponsors of the jihadist cause untouched: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan (the latter two we actually call allies).

The Obama administration outdid Bush in refusing to grasp the enemy’s nature. The administration purged its lexicon of anything hinting at the jihadist ideology. It pushed inconvenient facts aside. Recall Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist serving in the U.S. Army who self-described as a “Soldier of Allah.” When he gunned down 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, he shouted “Allahu Akbar.” Officially, the attack was played down as workplace violence.

The Obama administration bends over backward to deny any link between attacks and the jihadist ideology animating them. In 2015 it held a summit about Islamist attacks, headlined “countering violent extremism.” Even some friends of the administration blushed at this sophistry. Having cultivated this degree of self-delusion, it’s no wonder Obama blithely dismissed Islamic State as the “JV team” and spent years appeasing another standard-bearer of Islamic totalitarianism, the Iranian regime.

War By Other Means

Enabling this evasion on a culture-wide scale is a contributing factor: the “Islamophobia” smear. “Islamophobia” mashes together two fundamentally different things: serious analysis and criticism of jihadist ideas, which is essential; and bigotry and racism toward Muslims, which has no place in a civilized society. The result of the smear is to stifle serious analysis and criticism of Islamic totalitarianism by portraying any such discussion as racist.

So rampant is this evasive smear that even Michael Walzer, an influential left-leaning political theorist, is worried. Walzer admonished his brothers-in-arms who “are more concerned with avoiding accusations of Islamophobia than they are with condemning Islamist zealotry.” Consequently, many are unable to “consider the very good reasons for fearing Islamist zealots–and so they have difficulty explaining what’s going on in the world.”

What to expect from a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton White House? Both muddy the issue further. If Trump has a view, it exhibits no substantive grasp of the ideas driving the enemy, although he does exude a tribalist, racist bigotry toward outsiders, particularly Muslims. Clinton seeks to explain away the holy warriors as basically madmen, thus trivializing the jihadist ideology. Neither perspective equips us to end the threats we face.

By now, after so many years, some wonder: Can we end the Islamist menace? Yes, we can. A necessary — and long overdue — starting point is to understand Islamic totalitarianism.

About The Author

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond

by Elan Journo and Onkar Ghate | September 07, 2016 | ARI Press

Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism: From George W. Bush to Barack Obama and Beyond

The military strength of the United States is unmatched in all of world history. Yet fifteen years after September 11, Islamic totalitarianism is undefeated, emboldened, and on the march: from Paris and San Bernardino to Brussels and Orlando. Why?

The fundamental problem lies in the irrational philosophic ideas that permeate — and subvert — American foreign policy. The United States is a military superpower, but it lacks the self-confidence and moral certainty needed to defend itself and its ideals. And our political and intellectual leaders evade the nature of Islamic totalitarianism.

After 9/11, the Ayn Rand Institute predicted that the prevailing ideas about morality would undercut our foreign policy and cripple us in action. Those predictions have proved correct.

Can we end the Islamist menace and secure our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on earth? Yes — easily — if we adopt the right philosophic ideas to guide our foreign policy.

What People Are Saying:

“Anyone interested to know why fifteen years after the expulsion of al-Qaeda and its host Taliban regime from Afghanistan, and five years after the killing of Osama bin Laden, jihadist Islam is still on the march must read this brilliant collection of essays.” 

Professor Efraim Karsh, King’s College London and Bar-Ilan University, author of Islamic Imperialism: A History

* * * 

“I find this collection of essays heartbreakingly rational, masterfully reasoned, entirely clear, prescient—and therefore utterly heartbreaking — because the handwriting was on the very sky, from the moment Khomeini held our diplomats hostage — and by 2001, you and your team at the ARI were on duty speaking out against the willful blindness, cowardice, irrationality, and denial that has characterized the failure of American foreign policy under both Republican and Democratic presidents.”

Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D., Fellow, the Middle East Forum, author of fifteen books, including The New Anti-Semitism and An American Bride in Kabul

* * *

“This brilliant collection of editorials and interviews is a moral tour de force. . . . Onkar Ghate and Elan Journo offer a clear and consistent presentation of what a moral and rational American foreign policy ought to look like. The essays also offer original and insightful analyses of the West’s suicidal questioning of its own right to exist. The shameful appeasement, the destructive altruism behind our war efforts, and the tragic ways our government has become an agent for the self-defense of the citizens of enemy countries at the expense of its own citizens are all expertly and impressively highlighted. This original and intellectually honest book dares to identify the only antidotes to the current crisis we face in fighting Islamic terrorism: reason, rational self-interest and a merciless strategy designed to vanquish the enemy. This book will inspire and infuriate many in our culture. It provides that rare combination of philosophical principles applied to concrete political problems. The solutions provided here are the only viable ones in our culture today.”

Jason D. Hill, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, De Paul University

* * *

“[A] cornucopia of topical essays that relate to the crisis in which we find ourselves as 2016 draws to a close. . . . Since 9/11 and even before, the West has been loath to comprehend the threat of spreading Islamic extremism, now so correctly called ‘totalitarianism.’ . . . This book should be a primer for leaders around the globe and a text to be read by students hoping to go out into the working world in leadership positions. Highly recommended.”

Carol Gould, broadcaster and author of Don’t Tread on Me: Anti-Americanism Abroad, and Spitfire Girls.

About The Authors

Elan Journo

Senior Fellow and Vice President of Content Products, Ayn Rand Institute

Onkar Ghate

Chief Philosophy Officer and Senior Fellow, Ayn Rand Institute

Overturning Citizens United Would Be a Disaster for Free Speech

by Steve Simpson | September 06, 2016 | The Hill

With Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leading in the polls, it seems likely she will get the chance to deliver on her promise to appoint Supreme Court justices who oppose Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court’s 2010 decision allowing corporations to spend money on political advocacy. As president, Clinton would get to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s spot, and she might even get the chance to replace the author of Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is 80 years old. Either way, a Clinton presidency would eliminate the conservative majority that produced the decision, opening the door to its reversal.

This is depressing news for anyone who cares about free speech (all the more so because GOP nominee Donald Trump is no better on free speech than Clinton). Citizens United was based on core First Amendment principles: the right to think and speak your mind, to associate with others and to use your own resources to make yourself heard. Overturning it would be a disaster for free speech.

To see why, start with the facts of Citizens United. The law at issue prevented a nonprofit from distributing a film that opposed Clinton when she last ran for president. The government admitted during the case that the law could be applied to books as well. Central to the very idea of free speech is that it protects the right to criticize government. Yet the result of campaign finance laws is to restrict speech precisely because its subject is politics.

That’s unavoidable given the way the laws function. The purpose of campaign finance laws is to limit the amount of money people can spend to influence politics. But because the chief way to influence politics is to speak to voters and candidates, this necessarily means limiting political speech. To speak effectively, people have to spend money — on things like paper and pencils, signs, computers, printing presses, and broadcast facilities. Limit the money people can spend and you limit the speech they produce.

Campaign finance laws also inevitably expand to cover more and more speech. The reason is simple. When the law eliminates one way to influence politics, resourceful individuals find other ways. Limit direct contributions to candidates, and people will buy newspaper ads. Limit those, and they will turn to television, radio, films, books and the internet. Under the campaign finance laws, every new way to speak about politics becomes a “loophole” that must be closed.

It’s no answer to claim that overturning Citizens United would only affect corporations. True, “corporations aren’t people,” as the familiar refrain goes. They are groups of people. When a corporation “speaks,” the individuals who run it are really doing the speaking. They are exercising their right of association, which follows from the right to free speech — if individuals have the right to speak alone, they have the right to speak in groups. The same principle protects the right to speak through many groups, from political parties to public demonstrations.

There’s no logical reason to limit the reach of campaign finance laws to corporations. Any entity that can spend money can spend it to influence politics. Indeed, before Citizens United was decided, supporters of campaign finance laws targeted unincorporated associations such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and wealthy individuals who spent their own money on political speech. If Citizens United is overturned, everyone’s political speech will be subject to regulation.

Even the media aren’t safe. Most media entities are corporations, and they certainly spend money to influence politics. The media are currently exempt from campaign finance laws, but that exists at the pleasure of Congress. The idea that Congress would go after the media may sound crazy, but is it any crazier than government restricting films? Trump wants to use the libel laws to silence the press. Is it really farfetched to think politicians would use the campaign finance laws for the same purpose?

Silencing disagreeable speech certainly seems to be a motive of Citizens United’s critics. Clinton has called it “a case about a right-wing attack on me and my campaign.” At the Democratic convention, Marissa Barrow of the Progressive Change Campaign said “Hillary Clinton’s commitment to overturning Citizens United . . . [is] key to improving our chances of victory on every other issue.” Translation: Overturning the case will make it harder for Barrow’s opponents to convince politicians to block her policies.

It’s true that Citizens United led to billions more in political spending. But all of it was spent to produce speech promoting political views. From the standpoint of free speech, that’s a good result, not a bad one. True, much of that money is spent by people who want to feed from the public trough. But freedom to spend money on political speech is not the cause of cronyism any more than freedom of the press is the cause of libel.

Overturning Citizens United won’t eliminate government corruption. But it will allow government to limit our speech — and with it, our right to affect the course of our government.

About The Author

Steve Simpson

Former Director of Legal Studies (2013-2018), Ayn Rand Institute

New Book: Defending Free Speech

by The Editors | July 26, 2016

Defending Free Speech

“[S]o long as you have free speech, protect it,” Ayn Rand said. “This is the life-and-death issue in this country . . .” Ayn Rand is right; free speech is indispensable. Yet, today our freedom of speech is under attack, and increasingly so. Consider some recent examples:

  • To terrorize us into self-censorship, Islamists slaughter cartoonists for the depiction of Mohammad and threaten to murder allegedly “blasphemous” authors like Salman Rushdie.
  • To shield their feelings from “offensive” speech and controversial ideas, college students demand “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” on campuses.
  • To end the climate change debate, our government investigates ExxonMobil for climate apostasy.

To address these and other attacks on free speech, ARI recently published Defending Free Speech, which former Jyllands-Posten editor Flemming Rose describes as “a timely collection of excellent articles on current threats to free speech.”

Edited by Steve Simpson, ARI’s director of Legal Studies, Defending Free Speech analyzes not only the threats to free speech, but also the ideas that underlie those threats, as well as the better ideas — reason, egoism, and individual rights — necessary to defend this precious right.

The book serves as both a warning and a call to action: defend free speech — or we will lose it.

Harvey Silverglate, civil rights attorney and co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, describes Defending Free Speech as a “remarkable collection of essays . . . [that] should inspire and mobilize any friend of liberty to fight even harder for what we all must recognize is a do-or-die battle to protect the core of our civilization.”

Contributors to Simpson’s book include ARI senior fellows Dr. Onkar Ghate, Elan Journo and ARI founder Leonard Peikoff.

We at ARI have always been staunch defenders of the individual’s unconditional right to free speech. We have, for example, defied the growing climate of self-censorship by publicly showing various controversial depictions of Mohammad, including the Danish Cartoons, the Charlie Hebdo magazine covers and Bosch Fawstin’s winning artwork from the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Texas.

Join us in the fight for this extremely important value. Buy your copy of Defending Free Speech today. More about the book, the contributors, and what others are saying about the book is available here.

Additional resources:

About The Author

The Editors

The editors are Elan Journo, director of policy research; Steve Simpson, director of legal studies; and Carl Svanberg, editorial assistant.

Defending Free Speech

by Steve Simpson | July 02, 2016 | ARI Press

Defending Free Speech

[A] timely collection of excellent articles dealing with current threats to free speech.

— Flemming Rose, former editor of Jyllands-Posten and author of The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech

[This] remarkable collection of essays . . . should inspire and mobilize any friend of liberty to fight even harder for what we all must recognize is a do-or-die battle to protect the core of our civilization.

— Harvey Silverglate, civil liberties lawyer, co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (The Free Press, 1998), and co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (

Freedom of speech is indispensable to a free and civilized society, yet this precious right is increasingly under attack today.

  • Islamic totalitarians repeatedly threaten and kill those deemed blasphemers, while our political leaders stand idly by, and many intellectuals blame the victims.
  • College students seek “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” from controversial ideas and fly into fits of rage at the slightest offense.
  • The government harasses Tea Party groups, preventing them from speaking out during an election, and it investigates oil companies and advocacy groups for the “crime” of dissenting from climate change orthodoxy.

Why is this happening? What can be done?

This hard-hitting collection provides answers. Applying Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism to the most pressing free speech issues of the day, the essays in this book reveal the attacks on free speech to be the product of destructive ideas — ideas that are eroding Western culture at its foundation. They expose those ideas and the individuals who hold them, and, importantly, they identify the only ideas on which Western civilization can be sustained: reason, egoism and individual rights.

What others are saying:

“Ever since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the Ayn Rand Institute has been a morally and intellectually consistent defender of free speech. There is no ‘free speech, but’ exception in ARI’s approach to this important right. Its position is based on a simple truth: the individual is the most important minority in any society. Thus, for a society to be decent and civilized it has, through the force of reason, to be serious about the protection and cultivation of individual liberty.”

— Flemming Rose, former editor of Jyllands-Posten and author of The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech

“In the land of the free, the freedom of speech is being quietly but methodically destroyed. In the razor-sharp new book Defending Free Speech, authors Simpson, Ghate and Journo make the indispensable moral defense of why this basic human necessity must be defended with renewed urgency. Highly recommended!”

— Jonathan Hoenig, Fox News contributor,  

“The Ayn Rand Institute’s director of Legal Studies, Steve Simpson, has put together a powerful set of short essays that, taken together, powerfully demonstrate the ways in which freedom of speech is essential to the survival of our Western civilization as we’ve come to know, but too often under-appreciate, it. For those who have been asleep or imprisoned in a mind-set of wishful thinking, this collection speaks with burning intensity and powerful logic to the urgent and solemn duty of those of us still awake to redouble our efforts to turn the tide before it is too late.

Defending Free Speech . . . is short enough to make its dire point without hemming and hawing, but detailed enough to force the reader to take the endangered state of our culture of freedom deadly seriously. Anyone who reads this book and does not immediately devote himself to a renewed and reinvigorated defense of liberty has probably drunk too much post-modern Kool-Aid to deserve the freedoms that our predecessors fought and died for.”

— Harvey Silverglate, civil liberties lawyer, co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (The Free Press, 1998), and co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (

“Freedom of speech, the last standing pillar of American freedom, is teetering. Islamic jihadists and American liberals have joined forces to assault this crucially important freedom. Thankfully, we have the Ayn Rand Institute to explain the deeper philosophic meaning of free speech and why it must be defended at all costs. I urge all Americans to read this important book. Your life depends upon it!”

— C. Bradley Thompson, Executive Director, Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism and author of John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty

“Over the last few decades, writers from the Ayn Rand Institute have consistently provided the most incisive analyses of free speech controversies that I have read. These scholars unfailingly cut to the heart of a dispute over offensive speech or campaign spending on political speech, for instance, by exposing contesting sides’ deeper, operative premises about the basis of all speech and the conditions of freedom itself. For anyone seeking a grip on our ceaseless battles over free speech and the abiding principles at stake, this collection should be immensely illuminating.”

— Tara Smith, professor of philosophy, University of Texas, Austin, and author of Judicial Review in an Objective Legal System

“[Defending Free Speech] couldn’t be more timely. Free speech is increasingly under attack, not just on university campuses where students demand “safe spaces” where they are protected from hearing ideas they disagree with, but also by State governments who are attempting to silence — and sue — those who disagree with government policies on issues such as combating climate change. . . .

The fact that governments are not just failing to protect their citizens’ rights but are actually violating their rights is even a greater travesty, such as in the case of Massachusetts threatening to violate Exxon’s right to free expression of its view on climate change. Once the government reverts its role from the protector to the violator of rights, our ability survive and flourish, to produce and profit, is thrown out.

It is for that reason that all businesses should care about freedom of speech. Fortunately, in Defending Free Speech, they — and we — can find the intellectual ammunition to do so.”

— Jaana Woiceshyn, associate professor of business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, Canada, and author of How to Be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business

“Once upon a time, Americans could count on intellectuals, journalists, and politicians to stand up for free speech. . . . But today’s intellectuals and pundits are ominously muted; and, in a painful twist, free speech is now under attack in the very academic institutions that once cherished and protected it.

It’s high time to renew and reinvigorate the argument in favor of unconditional free speech. Defending Free Speech takes an important step in that direction.

[F]reedom of speech is a cornerstone of peaceful, civilized society. And, as Simpson concludes in his excellent book on the subject, ‘If you value free speech, now would be a good time to start making yourself heard’

Jim Brown, writing in The Objective Standard

“[Defending Free Speech] is both a warning and a call to action, detailing the recent history of threats to free speech in America and imploring the reader to defend this precious right on the basis of Enlightenment and Objectivist principles. Regardless of whether one subscribes to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, the powerful essays in this book will help readers to understand and navigate the current areas of controversy in the contemporary free speech debate.

 This book is a valuable addition to the intellectual arsenal of anyone who wishes to preserve this right.”

Daniel Pryor, communications associate at Students for Liberty

About The Author

Steve Simpson

Former Director of Legal Studies (2013-2018), Ayn Rand Institute

How U.S. Attorneys General Are Like Chinese Censors

by Steve Simpson | July 01, 2016 | The Federalist

Since 2012, when President Xi Jinping came to power, China has been cracking down on what little free speech the nation has recently enjoyed. Notable examples include harassing foreign nonprofits — a new law requires them to register with the government, disclose detailed financial information, and submit to police searches — and threats against those who make economic forecasts and report data the government deems too negative.

It’s an unfortunate reminder of the nature of authoritarian regimes. To control the economic and political lives of their subjects, they must at some point resort to censorship.

To its credit, the Obama administration has urged China to “respect the rights and freedoms” of nonprofits, businesses, journalists, and other groups, according to the Wall Street Journal. The administration seems to understand that harassing groups for advocating policy changes or threatening legal action against those who report inconvenient truths is no way for a civilized nation to conduct itself.

It would be nice if the administration were willing to apply the same lessons here at home. As the climate-change investigations of ExxonMobil show, many state attorneys general and other U.S. officials don’t respect freedom of speech any more than the Chinese government. The tactics they are using bear a striking resemblance to China’s efforts to censor speech.

This Isn’t Fraud, People

No doubt that sounds hyperbolic. After all, the United States is a far cry from China. We are told the investigations of ExxonMobil are based on allegations of fraud, not any effort to silence speech. As New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one of the leaders of the investigations, has said, “the First Amendment . . . does not give you the right to commit fraud.” He is certainly right about that. No one has the right to violate the rights of others, even if using speech to do it.

But governments that want to censor speech always manufacture plausible-sounding rationales for their actions. China has claimed it is targeting foreign nonprofits in order to “protect national security.” The fraud allegations against ExxonMobil may sound more plausible, but they don’t stand up to even casual scrutiny.

Fraud is a form of theft — in essence, it is theft by deceit. To commit fraud, the perpetrator must intentionally misrepresent a fact that is material to a transaction, the victim has to reasonably rely on that misrepresentation, and the misrepresentation has to cause the victim actual damages. The arguments against ExxonMobil don’t come close to meeting these conditions.

First, what facts are allegedly being misrepresented? The claim, based on exposés done by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, is that Exxon knew back in the 1970s that humans were causing catastrophic global warming. But we don’t even know that now. What we have, instead, are predictions about what might happen sometime in the future based on climate models that have been consistently wrong.

It’s true that ExxonMobil conducted research on global warming in the ’70s and ’80s and that some of its scientists expressed concerns over the possible consequences. That put it in the same position as pretty much everyone else who was examining the issue. As David Middleton, writing at the blog Watts Up With That, cleverly put the point: “Way back in 1982, Exxon knew what [NASA scientist James] Hansen knew. They knew that CO2 would cause nearly twice as much warming as would actually transpire over the subsequent 30 years.” In other words, ExxonMobil was just as wrong about predictions of catastrophic global warming as everyone else.

Damages Can’t Be Entirely Made-Up

This illustrates something about the climate change debate that makes the charge of fraud absurd: it’s not clear what impact humans are having on global climate or what the consequences will be. As many people have argued, it’s just as plausible that the effects of global warming will be modest or even beneficial as it is that they will be harmful. In short, the extent and impact of global warming is not a “fact” one can misrepresent. It’s part of a debate over an exceedingly complex scientific issue. It doesn’t matter how many scientists, politicians, and celebrities claim global warming will be a catastrophe. Disagreeing with them is not fraud.

Second, no reasonable person has taken any action on the basis of what ExxonMobil has or hasn’t said. The debate over global warming has raged now for decades. All sides’ views are widely known. No one who buys gas or stock from ExxonMobil can reasonably claim he ignored this very public debate and focused only on ExxonMobil’s views. Laws against fraud are not an excuse for ignorance.

Third, what, exactly, are the damages? If stockholders have anything to worry about, it’s that the government will drum ExxonMobil out of business, but that isn’t the company’s fault. People who buy gas from ExxonMobil are free to walk or ride their bikes. But so long as they drive cars, they are part of the very problem oil companies are accused of causing. Another principle of law is that you don’t have a claim for damages when the cause of those damages is you.

In any event, the alleged harm from global warming is entirely speculative. It’s based on predictions by people who have distinguished themselves by being consistently wrong, and even if they get lucky and turn out to be right, the warming they’ve predicted won’t happen for many decades or even centuries. Laws against fraud don’t protect people who don’t yet exist against alleged damages that have not yet occurred.

These Are Intimidation Tactics

But I’m being far too charitable to the state attorneys general involved in the investigations. Their legal arguments aren’t meant to be taken seriously, which brings me to the next parallel with authoritarian regimes: their intimidation tactics. The actions against ExxonMobil are not designed to prevent fraud; they are designed to scare oil companies into submission and silence dissent. Authoritarians know they can’t shut everyone up, and the authoritarians at the center of the ExxonMobil investigations know the First Amendment prevents them from outlawing dissent on global warming directly. So, like the Chinese government, they threaten a few on the theory that everyone else will self-censor.

That’s the purpose of the demand from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and others last year for information from nonprofit organizations like the Cato Institute, and of the subpoenas demanding ExxonMobil produce communications with nonprofits and others going back decades. Human rights advocates have criticized China’s harassment of foreign nonprofits, because they understand that requiring groups to disclose confidential information and submit to searches will chill their speech. At least the foreign nonprofits that violate China’s law only stand to get kicked out of the country. If we take the arguments against ExxonMobil seriously, the policy organizations that are wrapped up in the investigations are involved in a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy. They could face crushing fines and even jail time.

Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of this climate inquisition is that it targets companies whose products have produced incalculable benefits for mankind. Fossil fuels helped usher in the industrial age, lifting most of mankind out of crushing poverty. Yet climate alarmists brand fossil fuel companies and their allies “deniers” and call for them to be imprisoned. Why not just refer to them as “enemies of the state” and conduct a few purges?

Commenting at the press conference that launched the investigations, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said “there’s nothing we need to worry about more than climate change.” Actually, there is. Despotic government. You don’t need complicated models to figure out what happens when governments censor speech. The evidence on that question is solid.

About The Author

Steve Simpson

Former Director of Legal Studies (2013-2018), Ayn Rand Institute

Standing up for Free Speech

by The Editors | June 17, 2016

Standing up for Free Speech

Following the 2015 attack on the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Texas, it’s clear that standing up for free speech is more important now than ever. At ARI, we’re doing just that. And we have been uncompromising defenders of freedom of speech for decades.

After the jihadist massacre at the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Onkar Ghate explained in “Freedom of Speech: We Will Not Cower” why anyone who values his freedom must stand up for the right to free speech. ARI also sponsored two panel discussions featuring Jyllands-Posten’s Flemming Rose that addressed the cartoons controversy. In a podcast titled Freedom of Speech, “Islamophobia,” and the Cartoons Crisis, Elan Journo interviewed Flemming Rose on the climate of self-censorship in the West. And, in his talk, Free Speech and The Battle for Western Culture, Yaron Brook explained why it’s crucial to defend freedom of speech.

Islamic totalitarianism is not the only threat to free speech today, but to fight it we need to realize that the primary threat is not the terrorists but our understanding of free speech, it’s importance — and our willingness to defend it. In his talks Free Speech Under Siege and Is the First Amendment Enough?, Steve Simpson discussed the views of free speech in American culture that are emboldening the enemies of free speech.

In a special episode of The Yaron Brook Show, titled “The Climate Inquisition,” guest host Steve Simpson discussed how the government’s investigation of Exxon Mobil, et al., is a threat to free speech, the connection between freedom of speech and freedom of thought, why freedom demands conceptual clarity and what you can do to defend freedom of speech.

ARI has always defended free speech. In 1989, when Iran put a fatwa on Salman Rushdie, ARI answered with a full-page ad in New York Times written by Dr. Leonard Peikoff called “Religious Terrorism vs. Free Speech.” And in 2006, we not only argued extensively for the right to publish the Danish Mohammed cartoons, but we also defied the calls for censorship by publicly showing the pictures.

We will go on fighting for free of speech and defying those threatening to silence us. And that’s why we’re publishing Bosch Fawstin’s winning contribution from the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Texas.

That‘s Why I Draw You

We won’t cower.

Image: Ralwel via

About The Author

The Editors

The editors are Elan Journo, director of policy research; Steve Simpson, director of legal studies; and Carl Svanberg, editorial assistant.

Further Reading

Ayn Rand | 1957
For the New Intellectual

The Moral Meaning of Capitalism

An industrialist who works for nothing but his own profit guiltlessly proclaims his refusal to be sacrificed for the “public good.”
View Article
Ayn Rand | 1961
The Virtue of Selfishness

The Objectivist Ethics

What is morality? Why does man need it? — and how the answers to these questions give rise to an ethics of rational self-interest.
View Article