No Enemies to the Right?

David Boaz

Conservatives have long criticized liberals for what they see as a policy of “no enemies to the left.” That is, they said, liberals might not be socialists, communists, or revolutionaries, but they forbore criticizing such people.

,

And they have a point. The Washington Post has mentioned Angela Davis in several articles this year, always describing her as an “ activist” and not as a former longtime leader of the Communist Party. Davis has received many awards for her supposed activism for human rights and the environment – as well as the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize, called the Stalin Prize until 1957.

Senator Bernie Sanders says he advocates “democratic socialism” as found in Denmark and Sweden, but he honeymooned in the Soviet Union, defended the communist government of Nicaragua, and signed a letter of support for Venezuela’s disastrous strongman Hugo Chavez. And none of his opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination have called him out for that.

But now conservatives have a problem of their own. Call it “no enemies to the right.”

William F. Buckley Jr. the founder and editor of National Review, was known for kicking the fringe organs like the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement.

As one of his biographers wrote, Buckley “stood guard over the movement he founded and—in what he called his greatest achievement—kept it free where he could of extremists, bigots, kooks, anti-Semites and racists.”

Buckley made some missteps of his own early on. But he did show evidence of changing with the times. As his National Review colleagues put it in announcing his death, “He created modern conservatism as an intellectual and then a political movement. He kept it from drifting into the fever swamps.”

,

It would be helpful if those on the left would stop suggesting that everyone on the right is a racist. But it would also be good if those on the right would admit that there are racists and banish them for the good of their cause.

,

But things have changed since Buckley’s death in 2008, as many conservatives seem to have lost interest in drawing bright lines between themselves and the fever swamps. Just consider a few recent cases.

The venerable CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, run by the American Conservative Union, a venue at which Ronald Reagan gave influential speeches, in 2017 invited Milo Yiannopoulos, a guy who sent racist tweets to other writers before being permanently kicked of Twitter for harassing Leslie Jones, who makes anti-Semitic remarks about others, and falsely accuses transgender people of disproportionate crime rates, to be a keynote speaker. CPAC then disinvited him after revelations that he defended sex between adult men and teenagers on a radio show. But they were proud to have him when he was merely a bigot.

The next year CPAC doubled down, inviting Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, to speak. Marion told the Washington Post, “I am the political heir of Jean-Marie Le Pen. He was a visionary. He was right about a lot of things.” One of the things Le Pen was best known for was declaring the Holocaust “a mere detail in the history of the Second World War.”

The Claremont Institute, whose mission is to “restore the principles of the American Founding,” awarded a Lincoln Fellowship to Jack Posobiec, a blogger who has promoted the Pizzagate and Seth Rich conspiracy theories, tweeted about “white genocide,” and dropped racist and Nazi code words into numerous tweets. Think of him as a straight and less hip Milo.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized social media companies for trying to “silence conservative voices.” She posted a graphic listing such maligned intellectuals as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Milo himself, professional victim Laura Loomer, and noted anti-Semite Paul Nehlen—just the sort of fever swamps Buckley tried to steer clear of.

Conservatives have heavily touted a study of political bias on social media, claiming that of 22 prominent, politically active individuals known to have been suspended by Twitter since 2005 and who expressed a preference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 21 supported Donald Trump. But as Zach Graves of the Lincoln Network noted, along with a couple of legitimate conservatives, the 21 are largely “a who’s who of outspoken or accused white nationalists, neo-Confederates, holocaust deniers, conspiracy peddlers, professional trolls, and other alt-right or fringe personalities” – including the American Nazi Party and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

It would be helpful if those on the left would stop suggesting that everyone on the right is a racist. But it would also be good if those on the right would admit that there are racists—and banish them for the good of their cause.

From the perspective of a libertarian outsider looking in, it’s time for conservatives to decide: do you believe in liberty, limited government, equality under the law, the rule of law, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution? If so, you don’t belong anywhere near the fever swamps. You have enemies to the left, but also enemies to the right. Redraw those red lines. Put those guardrails back up.

Posted on September 16, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

No Enemies to the Right?

David Boaz

Conservatives have long criticized liberals for what they see as a policy of “no enemies to the left.” That is, they said, liberals might not be socialists, communists, or revolutionaries, but they forbore criticizing such people.

, ,

And they have a point. The Washington Post has mentioned Angela Davis in several articles this year, always describing her as an “ activist” and not as a former longtime leader of the Communist Party. Davis has received many awards for her supposed activism for human rights and the environment – as well as the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize, called the Stalin Prize until 1957.

Senator Bernie Sanders says he advocates “democratic socialism” as found in Denmark and Sweden, but he honeymooned in the Soviet Union, defended the communist government of Nicaragua, and signed a letter of support for Venezuela’s disastrous strongman Hugo Chavez. And none of his opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination have called him out for that.

But now conservatives have a problem of their own. Call it “no enemies to the right.”

William F. Buckley Jr. the founder and editor of National Review, was known for kicking the fringe organs like the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement.

As one of his biographers wrote, Buckley “stood guard over the movement he founded and—in what he called his greatest achievement—kept it free where he could of extremists, bigots, kooks, anti-Semites and racists.”

Buckley made some missteps of his own early on. But he did show evidence of changing with the times. As his National Review colleagues put it in announcing his death, “He created modern conservatism as an intellectual and then a political movement. He kept it from drifting into the fever swamps.”

,

But things have changed since Buckley’s death in 2008, as many conservatives seem to have lost interest in drawing bright lines between themselves and the fever swamps. Just consider a few recent cases.

The venerable CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, run by the American Conservative Union, a venue at which Ronald Reagan gave influential speeches, in 2017 invited Milo Yiannopoulos, a guy who sent racist tweets to other writers before being permanently kicked off of Twitter for harassing Leslie Jones, who makes anti-Semitic remarks about others, and falsely accuses transgender people of disproportionate crime rates, to be a keynote speaker. CPAC then disinvited him after revelations that he defended sex between adult men and teenagers on a radio show. But they were proud to have him when he was merely a bigot.

The next year CPAC doubled down, inviting Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen and niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, to speak. Marion told the Washington Post, “I am the political heir of Jean-Marie Le Pen. He was a visionary. He was right about a lot of things.” One of the things Le Pen was best known for was declaring the Holocaust “a mere detail in the history of the Second World War.”

The Claremont Institute, whose mission is to “restore the principles of the American Founding,” awarded a Lincoln Fellowship to Jack Posobiec, a blogger who has promoted the Pizzagate and Seth Rich conspiracy theories, tweeted about “white genocide,” and dropped racist and Nazi code words into numerous tweets. Think of him as a straight and less hip Milo.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham criticized social media companies for trying to “silence conservative voices.” She posted a graphic listing such maligned intellectuals as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Milo himself, professional victim Laura Loomer, and noted anti-Semite Paul Nehlen—just the sort of fever swamps Buckley tried to steer clear of.

Conservatives have heavily touted a study of political bias on social media, claiming that of 22 prominent, politically active individuals known to have been suspended by Twitter since 2005 and who expressed a preference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 21 supported Donald Trump. But as Zach Graves of the Lincoln Network noted, along with a couple of legitimate conservatives, the 21 are largely “a who’s who of outspoken or accused white nationalists, neo-Confederates, holocaust deniers, conspiracy peddlers, professional trolls, and other alt-right or fringe personalities” – including the American Nazi Party and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

It would be helpful if those on the left would stop suggesting that everyone on the right is a racist. But it would also be good if those on the right would admit that there are racists—and banish them for the good of their cause.

From the perspective of a libertarian outsider looking in, it’s time for conservatives to decide: do you believe in liberty, limited government, equality under the law, the rule of law, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution? If so, you don’t belong anywhere near the fever swamps. You have enemies to the left, but also enemies to the right. Redraw those red lines. Put those guardrails back up.

Posted on September 16, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Key Concepts of Libertarianism

The key concepts of libertarianism have developed over many centuries. The first inklings of them can be found in ancient China, Greece, and Israel; they began to be developed into something resembling modern libertarian philosophy in the work of such seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thinkers as John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine.

Individualism. Libertarians see the individual as the basic unit of social analysis. Only individuals make choices and are responsible for their actions. Libertarian thought emphasizes the dignity of each individual, which entails both rights and responsibility. The progressive extension of dignity to more people — to women, to people of different religions and different races — is one of the great libertarian triumphs of the Western world.

Individual Rights. Because individuals are moral agents, they have a right to be secure in their life, liberty, and property. These rights are not granted by government or by society; they are inherent in the nature of human beings. It is intuitively right that individuals enjoy the security of such rights; the burden of explanation should lie with those who would take rights away.

Spontaneous Order. A great degree of order in society is necessary for individuals to survive and flourish. It’s easy to assume that order must be imposed by a central authority, the way we impose order on a stamp collection or a football team. The great insight of libertarian social analysis is that order in society arises spontaneously, out of the actions of thousands or millions of individuals who coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes. Over human history, we have gradually opted for more freedom and yet managed to develop a complex society with intricate organization. The most important institutions in human society — language, law, money, and markets — all developed spontaneously, without central direction. Civil society — the complex network of associations and connections among people — is another example of spontaneous order; the associations within civil society are formed for a purpose, but civil society itself is not an organization and does not have a purpose of its own.

The Rule of Law. Libertarianism is not libertinism or hedonism. It is not a claim that “people can do anything they want to, and nobody else can say anything.” Rather, libertarianism proposes a society of liberty under law, in which individuals are free to pursue their own lives so long as they respect the equal rights of others. The rule of law means that individuals are governed by generally applicable and spontaneously developed legal rules, not by arbitrary commands; and that those rules should protect the freedom of individuals to pursue happiness in their own ways, not aim at any particular result or outcome.

Limited Government. To protect rights, individuals form governments. But government is a dangerous institution. Libertarians have a great antipathy to concentrated power, for as Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Thus they want to divide and limit power, and that means especially to limit government, generally through a written constitution enumerating and limiting the powers that the people delegate to government. Limited government is the basic political implication of libertarianism, and libertarians point to the historical fact that it was the dispersion of power in Europe — more than other parts of the world — that led to individual liberty and sustained economic growth.

Free Markets. To survive and to flourish, individuals need to engage in economic activity. The right to property entails the right to exchange property by mutual agreement. Free markets are the economic system of free individuals, and they are necessary to create wealth. Libertarians believe that people will be both freer and more prosperous if government intervention in people’s economic choices is minimized.

The Virtue of Production. Much of the impetus for libertarianism in the seventeenth century was a reaction against monarchs and aristocrats who lived off the productive labor of other people. Libertarians defended the right of people to keep the fruits of their labor. This effort developed into a respect for the dignity of work and production and especially for the growing middle class, who were looked down upon by aristocrats. Libertarians developed a pre-Marxist class analysis that divided society into two basic classes: those who produced wealth and those who took it by force from others. Thomas Paine, for instance, wrote, “There are two distinct classes of men in the nation, those who pay taxes, and those who receive and live upon the taxes.” Similarly, Jefferson wrote in 1824, “We have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious.” Modern libertarians defend the right of productive people to keep what they earn, against a new class of politicians and bureaucrats who would seize their earnings to transfer them to political clients and cronies.

Natural Harmony of Interests. Libertarians believe that there is a natural harmony of interests among peaceful, productive people in a just society. One person’s individual plans — which may involve getting a job, starting a business, buying a house, and so on — may conflict with the plans of others, so the market makes many of us change our plans. But we all prosper from the operation of the free market, and there are no necessary conflicts between farmers and merchants, manufacturers and importers. Only when government begins to hand out rewards on the basis of political pressure do we find ourselves involved in group conflict, pushed to organize and contend with other groups for a piece of political power.

Peace. Libertarians have always battled the age-old scourge of war. They understood that war brought death and destruction on a grand scale, disrupted family and economic life, and put more power in the hands of the ruling class — which might explain why the rulers did not always share the popular sentiment for peace. Free men and women, of course, have often had to defend their own societies against foreign threats; but throughout history, war has usually been the common enemy of peaceful, productive people on all sides of the conflict.

… It may be appropriate to acknowledge at this point the reader’s likely suspicion that libertarianism seems to be just the standard framework of modern thought — individualism, private property, capitalism, equality under the law. Indeed, after centuries of intellectual, political, and sometimes violent struggle, these core libertarian principles have become the basic structure of modern political thought and of modern government, at least in the West and increasingly in other parts of the world.

However, three additional points need to be made: first, libertarianism is not just these broad liberal principles. Libertarianism applies these principles fully and consistently, far more so than most modern thinkers and certainly more so than any modern government. Second, while our society remains generally based on equal rights and capitalism, every day new exceptions to those principles are carved out in Washington and in Albany, Sacramento, and Austin (not to mention London, Bonn, Tokyo, and elsewhere). Each new government directive takes a little bit of our freedom, and we should think carefully before giving up any liberty. Third, liberal society is resilient; it can withstand many burdens and continue to flourish; but it is not infinitely resilient. Those who claim to believe in liberal principles but advocate more and more confiscation of the wealth created by productive people, more and more restrictions on voluntary interaction, more and more exceptions to property rights and the rule of law, more and more transfer of power from society to state, are unwittingly engaged in the ultimately deadly undermining of civilization.

From Chapter 1, “The Coming Libertarian Age,” The Libertarian Mind, by David Boaz (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015). See also www.libertarianism.org.

Posted on August 20, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

George Will cites David Boaz’s blog post, “Lobbying in Trump’s Washington: New Names, Old Game,” on Sirius XM’s Politics Inside Out

Posted on August 17, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

George Will cites David Boaz’s blog post, “Lobbying in Trump’s Washington: New Names, Old Game,” on Sirius XM’s Politics Inside Out

Posted on August 17, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Conquest of the United States by China

In 1898, after the United States’ quick victory in the Spanish-American war, the great Yale social scientist William Graham Sumner gave a speech titled “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” He told his audience, “We have beaten Spain in a military conflict, but we are submitting to be conquered by her on the field of ideas and policies.”

He argued that early Americans “came here to isolate themselves from the social burdens and inherited errors of the old world” and chose to “to strip off all the follies and errors which they had inherited…. They would have no court and no pomp; no orders, or ribbons, or decorations, or titles. They would have no public debt. They repudiated with scorn the notion that a public debt is a public blessing; if debt was incurred in war it was to be paid in peace and not entailed on posterity.”

The American citizen “was, above all, to be insured peace and quiet while he pursued his honest industry and obeyed the laws.”

But, he said, if America became a colonizing nation like the empires of Europe, we would become afflicted with “war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand-government system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, and political jobbery – in a word, imperialism.” And in that day we would have thrown away the American principle of liberty for “a Spanish policy of dominion and regulation.”

I was reminded of Sumner’s warning when I read a column in the Washington Post by Eswar Prasad, a prominent trade economist at Cornell University and the Brookings Institution. Prasad warns that in its trade war with China the Trump administration seems determined to emulate China:

China might seem in a better position to cope with a trade war, since it is a heavily managed economy and the government squashes political resistance. Yet its every maneuver carries enormous risks. Meanwhile, Trump, who manages a durable and flexible economy, is not exactly seeking victory for the American way of doing business. His approach, in some ways right out of Beijing’s playbook, would make our economy quite a bit more like China’s.

Prasad enumerates some of China’s “advantages” in a trade war: a state-dominated economy, with state-owned banks, and an autocratic government that can shut down dissent and censor bad news. Trump, on the other hand, has the advantage of an “enormously flexible and resilient” economy and bipartisan support for “getting tough on China.” But Prasad warns:

Yet in exercising his power, he could end up making America’s economy a bit more like the state-dominated one operated by Beijing — and, in so doing, permanently damage the U.S. free market. To rescue the agricultural sector from the consequences of the trade war, Trump has already dispatched $28 billion in government subsidies. He has also jawboned American companies to move their production bases back to U.S. shores, rather than letting them make their own commercial decisions. Trump has even pressured the Federal Reserve, whose independence is seen as sacrosanct, to lower interest rates and suggested that the Fed should help drive down the value of the dollar. With such moves, he risks undermining the true strengths of the United States: the institutions that make the U.S. dollar and the American financial system so dominant.

What’s worse, Trump suggests that the rule of law is up for negotiation. After imposing sanctions on Chinese technology companies such as ZTE and Huawei for running afoul of U.S. rules, he hinted that those sanctions could be negotiated away as part of a trade deal.

Much as Sumner worried in 1898 that the United States was trading its peace and liberty for “a Spanish policy of dominion and regulation,” Prasad fears that

China has made its lack of independent institutions a source of strength in dealing with external economic aggression. In that model, Trump sees something Washington should copy — and seems ready to abandon what makes the United States special. 

We faced a similar challenge in the 1980s when powerful American voices called for an industrial policy similar to the one they credited with the success of the then-booming Japanese economy. But critical analysis from Cato scholars and others across the political spectrum stopped that campaign, just in time for us to watch Japan sink into its “lost decade” of economic stagnation.

Sumner got a lot right. The United States did become a globe-circling imperial power burdened by war, debt, taxation, regulation, and rent-seeking. Will Prasad prove equally prophetic? Will we fight a trade war with China, only to discover that we have adopted “a Chinese policy of dominion and regulation”?

Posted on August 13, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The Conquest of the United States by China

David Boaz

In 1898, after the United States’ quick victory in the Spanish-American war, the great Yale social scientist William Graham Sumner gave a speech titled “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” He told his audience, "We have beaten Spain in a military conflict, but we are submitting to be conquered by her on the field of ideas and policies."

He argued that early Americans “came here to isolate themselves from the social burdens and inherited errors of the old world” and chose to “to strip off all the follies and errors which they had inherited.... They would have no court and no pomp; no orders, or ribbons, or decorations, or titles. They would have no public debt. They repudiated with scorn the notion that a public debt is a public blessing; if debt was incurred in war it was to be paid in peace and not entailed on posterity.”

The American citizen “was, above all, to be insured peace and quiet while he pursued his honest industry and obeyed the laws.”

But, he said, if America became a colonizing nation like the empires of Europe, we would become afflicted with “war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand-government system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, and political jobbery – in a word, imperialism.” And in that day we would have thrown away the American principle of liberty for “a Spanish policy of dominion and regulation.”

I was reminded of Sumner’s warning when I read a column in the Washington Post by Eswar Prasad, a prominent trade economist at Cornell University and the Brookings Institution. Prasad warns that in its trade war with China the Trump administration seems determined to emulate China:

China might seem in a better position to cope with a trade war, since it is a heavily managed economy and the government squashes political resistance. Yet its every maneuver carries enormous risks. Meanwhile, Trump, who manages a durable and flexible economy, is not exactly seeking victory for the American way of doing business. His approach, in some ways right out of Beijing’s playbook, would make our economy quite a bit more like China’s.

Prasad enumerates some of China’s “advantages” in a trade war: a state-dominated economy, with state-owned banks, and an autocratic government that can shut down dissent and censor bad news. Trump, on the other hand, has the advantage of an “enormously flexible and resilient” economy and bipartisan support for “getting tough on China.” But Prasad warns:

Yet in exercising his power, he could end up making America’s economy a bit more like the state-dominated one operated by Beijing — and, in so doing, permanently damage the U.S. free market. To rescue the agricultural sector from the consequences of the trade war, Trump has already dispatched $28 billion in government subsidies. He has also jawboned American companies to move their production bases back to U.S. shores, rather than letting them make their own commercial decisions. Trump has even pressured the Federal Reserve, whose independence is seen as sacrosanct, to lower interest rates and suggested that the Fed should help drive down the value of the dollar. With such moves, he risks undermining the true strengths of the United States: the institutions that make the U.S. dollar and the American financial system so dominant.

What’s worse, Trump suggests that the rule of law is up for negotiation. After imposing sanctions on Chinese technology companies such as ZTE and Huawei for running afoul of U.S. rules, he hinted that those sanctions could be negotiated away as part of a trade deal.

Much as Sumner worried in 1898 that the United States was trading its peace and liberty for “a Spanish policy of dominion and regulation,” Prasad fears that

China has made its lack of independent institutions a source of strength in dealing with external economic aggression. In that model, Trump sees something Washington should copy — and seems ready to abandon what makes the United States special. 

We faced a similar challenge in the 1980s when powerful American voices called for an industrial policy similar to the one they credited with the success of the then-booming Japanese economy. But critical analysis from Cato scholars and others across the political spectrum stopped that campaign, just in time for us to watch Japan sink into its “lost decade” of economic stagnation.

Sumner got a lot right. The United States did become a globe-circling imperial power burdened by war, debt, taxation, regulation, and rent-seeking. Will Prasad prove equally prophetic? Will we fight a trade war with China, only to discover that we have adopted “a Chinese policy of dominion and regulation”?

Posted on August 13, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Woodstock at 50

David Boaz

I was a little young for Woodstock. In that news-packed summer of 1969, I was entranced by the moon landing and aware of Chappaquiddick, but I don't recall paying much attention to Stonewall or Woodstock. But both of them became symbols of social change and stayed in the news and eventually the history books. 

In 2009 I watched the movie Taking Woodstock, directed by Ang Lee, which led me to the book of the same name by Elliot Tiber. As I say, I knew of Woodstock as a hippie happening a bit before my time. What I found interesting about the movie and the book was the portrayal of the Woodstock Festival, “Three Days of Peace and Music,” as an impressive entrepreneurial venture. 

In 1969 Tiber was a 33-year-old gay designer living in Manhattan, while spending his weekends trying to save his parents’ run-down Catskills motel. One weekend he read that some concert promoters had been denied a permit in Wallkill, N.Y. He came up with the crazy idea of inviting them to hold the festival on his parents’ property. Lo and behold, they showed up to check it out. Taking the lead was 24-year-old Michael Lang, who went on to become a prominent concert promoter and producer. 

The Tiber (actually Teichberg) property wasn’t suitable, but Elliot drove Lang and his team down the road to Max Yasgur’s nearby farm. At least that’s Tiber’s story; other sources say he exaggerates his role. He did play a key role, however, in that he had a permit to hold an annual music festival, which up until then had involved a few local bands. 

There’s a wonderful scene, better in the movie than in the book, when Lang and Yasgur negotiate a price for the use of the farm. We see Yasgur coming to realize that this is a big deal and demanding more money. We see Elliot panicking that the deal will fall through, and that without the festival business his parents will lose their motel. And we see Lang’s assistant reassuring Elliot that both parties want to make a deal, so they’ll find an acceptable price, which indeed they do. 

And then, with 30 days to transform a dairy farm into a place for tens of thousands of people to show up for a 3-day festival, Tiber describes (and Lee shows) a whirlwind of activity. “Within a couple of hours, the phone company had a small army of trucks and tech people on the grounds, installing the banks of telephones that Lang and his people needed.” Helicopters, limousines, and motorcycles come and go. A few hundred people are erecting scaffolding, stage sets, speakers, and toilets. The motel keepers are trying to find rooms and food for the workers and the early arrivals. The local bank is eagerly providing door-to-door service for the mountains of cash flowing into bucolic White Lake, N.Y. 

Meanwhile, there are a few locals who don’t like the whole idea. In Tiber’s telling, they don’t like Jews, queers, outsiders, or hippies. Maybe they just didn’t like a quiet village being overrun with thousands of outsiders. In any case they had a few tools available to them. A dozen kinds of inspectors swarmed around the Teichbergs’ motel. The town council threatened to pull the permit. Tiber writes, “Why is it that the stupidest people alive become politicians? I asked myself.”  At the raucous council meeting Lang offered the town a gift of $25,000 ($175,000 in today’s dollars), and most of the crowd got quiet. Max Yasgur stood and pointed out that “he owned his farm and had a right to lease it as he pleased.” That didn’t stop the opposition, but in the end the concert happened. 

The psychedelic posters and language about peace and love – and on the other side, the conservative fulminations about filthy hippies (see John Nolte’s movie review at Breitbart's BigHollywood.com) – can obscure the fact that Woodstock was always intended as a profit-making venture. That was the goal of Lang and his partners, and it was also the intention of Tiber, Yasgur, and those of their neighbors who saw the concert as an opportunity and not a nightmare. The festival did rescue the Teichberg finances. It ended up being a free concert, however, which caused problems for Lang and his team. Eventually, though, they profited from the albums and the hit documentary Woodstock

In his book Tiber also details his life split between Manhattan’s scene and his parents’ upstate struggles. He tells us that as a young gay man in the ‘60s he encountered Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Marlon Brando and Wally Cox, and Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Tiber writes, “One of the great benefits of Woodstock—a benefit that, to my knowledge, has never been written about—was its sexual diversity.” But I think the fact that there were gay awakenings at Woodstock—and three-ways and strapping ex-Marines in sequined dresses—would surprise people less than the realization that Woodstock was a for-profit venture that involved a lot of entrepreneurship, hard-nosed negotiation, organization, and hard work. Taking Woodstock (the book, but better yet the movie) is a great story of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and capitalism. 

Posted on August 12, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Woodstock at 50

David Boaz

I was a little young for Woodstock. In that news-packed summer of 1969, I was entranced by the moon landing and aware of Chappaquiddick, but I don't recall paying much attention to Stonewall or Woodstock. But both of them became symbols of social change and stayed in the news and eventually the history books. 

In 2009 I watched the movie Taking Woodstock, directed by Ang Lee, which led me to the book of the same name by Elliot Tiber. As I say, I knew of Woodstock as a hippie happening a bit before my time. What I found interesting about the movie and the book was the portrayal of the Woodstock Festival, “Three Days of Peace and Music,” as an impressive entrepreneurial venture. 

In 1969 Tiber was a 33-year-old gay designer living in Manhattan, while spending his weekends trying to save his parents’ run-down Catskills motel. One weekend he read that some concert promoters had been denied a permit in Wallkill, N.Y. He came up with the crazy idea of inviting them to hold the festival on his parents’ property. Lo and behold, they showed up to check it out. Taking the lead was 24-year-old Michael Lang, who went on to become a prominent concert promoter and producer. 

The Tiber (actually Teichberg) property wasn’t suitable, but Elliot drove Lang and his team down the road to Max Yasgur’s nearby farm. At least that’s Tiber’s story; other sources say he exaggerates his role. He did play a key role, however, in that he had a permit to hold an annual music festival, which up until then had involved a few local bands. 

There’s a wonderful scene, better in the movie than in the book, when Lang and Yasgur negotiate a price for the use of the farm. We see Yasgur coming to realize that this is a big deal and demanding more money. We see Elliot panicking that the deal will fall through, and that without the festival business his parents will lose their motel. And we see Lang’s assistant reassuring Elliot that both parties want to make a deal, so they’ll find an acceptable price, which indeed they do. 

And then, with 30 days to transform a dairy farm into a place for tens of thousands of people to show up for a 3-day festival, Tiber describes (and Lee shows) a whirlwind of activity. “Within a couple of hours, the phone company had a small army of trucks and tech people on the grounds, installing the banks of telephones that Lang and his people needed.” Helicopters, limousines, and motorcycles come and go. A few hundred people are erecting scaffolding, stage sets, speakers, and toilets. The motel keepers are trying to find rooms and food for the workers and the early arrivals. The local bank is eagerly providing door-to-door service for the mountains of cash flowing into bucolic White Lake, N.Y. 

Meanwhile, there are a few locals who don’t like the whole idea. In Tiber’s telling, they don’t like Jews, queers, outsiders, or hippies. Maybe they just didn’t like a quiet village being overrun with thousands of outsiders. In any case they had a few tools available to them. A dozen kinds of inspectors swarmed around the Teichbergs’ motel. The town council threatened to pull the permit. Tiber writes, “Why is it that the stupidest people alive become politicians? I asked myself.”  At the raucous council meeting Lang offered the town a gift of $25,000 ($175,000 in today’s dollars), and most of the crowd got quiet. Max Yasgur stood and pointed out that “he owned his farm and had a right to lease it as he pleased.” That didn’t stop the opposition, but in the end the concert happened. 

The psychedelic posters and language about peace and love – and on the other side, the conservative fulminations about filthy hippies (see John Nolte’s movie review at Breitbart's BigHollywood.com) – can obscure the fact that Woodstock was always intended as a profit-making venture. That was the goal of Lang and his partners, and it was also the intention of Tiber, Yasgur, and those of their neighbors who saw the concert as an opportunity and not a nightmare. The festival did rescue the Teichberg finances. It ended up being a free concert, however, which caused problems for Lang and his team. Eventually, though, they profited from the albums and the hit documentary Woodstock

In his book Tiber also details his life split between Manhattan’s scene and his parents’ upstate struggles. He tells us that as a young gay man in the ‘60s he encountered Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Marlon Brando and Wally Cox, and Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Tiber writes, “One of the great benefits of Woodstock—a benefit that, to my knowledge, has never been written about—was its sexual diversity.” But I think the fact that there were gay awakenings at Woodstock—and three-ways and strapping ex-Marines in sequined dresses—would surprise people less than the realization that Woodstock was a for-profit venture that involved a lot of entrepreneurship, hard-nosed negotiation, organization, and hard work. Taking Woodstock (the book, but better yet the movie) is a great story of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and capitalism. 

Posted on August 12, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses a Republican departure in the House of Representatives on Hearst Television

Posted on August 11, 2019  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.

Follow

Commentator

Search