All posts by Joel Schlosberg

All Should Be Free in America

George Chakiris leads the Sharks against the Jets and the State. Public domain.
George Chakiris leads the Sharks against the Jets and the State. Public domain.

Six decades later, America’s headlines could remain in “America.”

Memorials to Stephen Sondheim didn’t have to search far to find parallels between the musical West Side Story and a United States disunited by class and ethnic strife in 2021.  Sondheim’s lyrics “Everywhere Grime in America, Terrible Time in America” became Jacobin‘s headline for an anniversary retrospective on the 1961 film version two weeks before his passing on November 26.

Meanwhile, current-year academic contentions that “white identity is intrinsic to Western ideas about liberty” may as well have borrowed the couplet “Life is all right in America/if you’re all-white in America.”

Less fashionable are sentiments celebrating the right to be “free to be anything you choose” nearly two decades before Milton Friedman popularized a shorter version of the phrase. In contrast to the rejoinder that this meant a mere freedom “to wait tables and shine shoes,” Friedman documented how economic restraints, rather than their absence, trapped workers in low-paying jobs and kept goods out of reach of consumers.

Sondheim’s paeans to expanded personal options were likewise echoed at the end of the 1960s in Karl Hess’s “libertarian insistence that men be free to spin cables of steel, as well as dreams of smoke.”  Hess noted the emerging libertarian movement’s break with “patriots who sing of freedom but also shout of banners and boundaries.” West Side Story‘s wayward youth, faced with prejudice and legal harassment, refuse to be barred from the “sweet land of liberty” of another song named “America.”

Esquire‘s critic Dwight Macdonald saw West Side Story as replacing a “lively and disrespectful” musical style with a “schmaltzy” one at odds with urban grit. Ironically, the same Macdonald championed the cultural ferment of city-states “riven by faction, stormy with passionate antagonisms” squelched by the “uniformity and agreement” needed for “that achievement of power over other countries that is the great aim of modern statecraft.” As Hess observed in writings like Neighborhood Power, the decentralization of politics to the smallest possible scale need not result in social devolution. Freedom of choice has enough room for all of us.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

  1. “All Should Be Free in America” by Joel Schlosberg, Anchorage, Alaska Press, December 3, 2021
  2. “All should be free in America” by Joel Schlosberg, Kenosha, Wisconsin News, December 4, 2021
  3. “All Should Be Free in America” by Joel Schlosberg, OpEdNews, December 7, 2021
  4. “Six decades later, America’s headlines could remain in ‘America.'” by Thomas L. Knapp [sic], The Glasgow [Montana] Courier, December 8, 2021

Was it a Clown Car or a Cop Car I Saw?

Silent clown Buster Keaton gets clobbered by two of the many “Cops” in his 1922 comedy short. Public domain.

A year after the man dubbed the “Insane Clown President” by Matt Taibbi was voted out, Trump-era dread still haunts the USA.

As the end of October approached, numerous news outlets debunked online rumors that “clowns are allegedly planning their own purge the night before Halloween.” Yet while madcap maniacs’ mayhem was conspicuous in its absence, so was skeptical scrutiny of the similarly apocalyptic anxieties over the off-year elections of November 2.

When the forerunners of 2021’s clown warnings circulated in 2016, Mad magazine noted that common features with the concurrent presidential campaign included “men wearing makeup and disturbing grins” and being “like something out of a horror story.” If anything, such comparisons are too flattering to the political circus.

The campaign trail’s rivalries are more obnoxious than the one between Crazy magazine mascot Obnoxio the Clown and Mad‘s Alfred E. Neuman, who himself became a clown rather than merely clownish on the cover of Mad Clowns Around. Insane Clown Posse is not the threat to civil society that the FBI’s classification of the fanbase of the horrorcore hip hop duo as a gang itself became.

Election results confirming the Pew Research Center’s report that “support for reducing spending on police has fallen significantly” likewise reflect the premise of the Purge films (the second was subtitled Anarchy) that the absence of law and order would lead to chaos. Yet as Howard Zinn observed half a century ago, a society where “order based on law and on the force of law” preempts “harmonious relationships” and nonviolent settling of disputes “is the closest to what is called anarchy in the popular mind — confusion, chaos, international banditry.”

In an interview for their July 1976 issue, Karl Hess told Playboy magazine that “the Presidency could be overthrown tomorrow if the American people suddenly began laughing at it, or ignoring it” and that there was no need to “reach for the musket if all you need is a custard pie.” Looking back on that same bicentennial year’s presidential race for Vanity Fair, Wavy Gravy recalled that he was considered “too weird to arrest” when a bulge in his pocket turned out to be from gag teeth rather than a firearm, with the jester-protester choosing to follow its chattering rather than that of the candidates since “nobody should have that much power.”

Voting with one’s feet without passing through a polling site can be an effective path to change, even if those feet are wearing clown shoes.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

  1. “Was it a Clown Car or a Cop Car I Saw?” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, November 5, 2021
  2. “Was it a clown car or a cop car I saw?” by Joel Schlosberg, Miles City, Montana Star, November 5, 2021
  3. “Was it a Clown Car or a Cop Car I Saw?” by Joel Schlosberg, OpEdNews, November 10, 2021
  4. “Was it a Clown Car, or a Cop Car I Saw?” by Joel Schlosberg, Roundup Record-Tribune & Winnett Times [Montana], November 10, 2021

Libertarianism: No Infantile Disorder

The faces of horror comics in 1954 were as alarming to authority figures as Facebook is in 2021. Public domain.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat could use a refresher on Freudo-Marxist psychiatrists.

Douthat chides libertarians — or at least “the kind of libertarian who identifies forever with his 13-year-old self” — for taking a laissez-faire attitude to “a novel, obviously addictive technology that might well be associated with depression and self-harm” (“Instagram Is Adult Entertainment,” September 30). Douthat refers to social media websites, but he should take a closer look at “the people who panicked over the moral effects of comic books” before dismissing a parallel.

Seduction of the Innocent author Fredric Wertham was sure that the shift of comics from the funny pages to funnybooks was causing psychological harm to young readers, a diagnosis drawn not from old-fashioned prudery but the Frankfurt School’s suspicion of commercial culture. Wertham cited the Progressive Era’s forays against reckless robber barons in his efforts to clean up crime comics. Ironically, such regulation allowed cartelized industries to get away with lower safety standards (and higher profits) than possible under the pressure of market competition.

By the 1960s, Mad magazine was spreading as a primer for rebellious adolescents after the Comics Code Authority forced its publisher to discontinue horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear. Meanwhile, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm introduced American audiences to a British import that became an icon of the youth counterculture. While the Beatles were proving that rock and roll would outlast Elvis Presley leaving for the Army, Fromm highlighted how “the idea of education without force” was being put into practice at the alternative school Summerhill.

Fromm insisted to those who saw an excess of permissiveness in pedagogy that, just as in the realm of politics, “it is not that authority has disappeared, nor even that it has lost in strength, but that it has been transformed from the overt authority of force to the anonymous authority of persuasion and suggestion.” Freedom did not fail when it was genuine.

Douthat’s inistence that the state save social life from social media likewise ignores Fromm’s insight, drawn from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, that social organization can only be a social benefit if its “associations are free and spontaneous, and not state imposed.” What Fromm called Proudhon’s “drastic condemnation of the principle of authority and hierarchy” as “the prime cause of all disorders and ills of society” should serve as a warning to those who see it as the cure.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

  1. “Libertarianism – No Infantile Disorder” by Joel Schlosberg, The Glasgow, Montana Courier, October 6, 2021
  2. “Libertarianism: No Infantile Disorder” by Joel Schlosberg, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, October 6, 2021