After presenting a talk on Lincoln at Grove City College last February I had breakfast the next morning with Professors Shawn Rittennour and Jeff Herbener and the College Libertarians — the student group that invited me to speak. One bright young woman sitting across from me said that she aspired to be a columnist, just like Ann Coulter. I encouraged her to pursue her dream, but also mentioned that she was in the unique position to educate herself in a way that could make her far superior to the Ann Coulters of the world, as successful and influential as they may be.
I like many of Ann Coulter’s (older) columns but, like most "conservative" pundits today, she has become primarily a propagandist for the Republican Party. Journalists like Coulter seem to have no principles other than "Republicans good, Democrats bad; no exceptions." Not so long ago there was a conservative movement that sought to hold the Republican Party to conservative, limited government principles. That movement no longer exists.
I recommended to the young lady at Grove City College that she consider other female "conservative" or classical liberal writers who have more of an intellectual base behind their writings as role models. I mentioned specifically my friend Ilana Mercer, the WorldNetDaily columnist who has recently published a book entitled Broad Sides: One Woman’s Clash with a Corrupt Culture.
Like most libertarian writers I know, Ilana is a "natural" libertarian, arriving at her core beliefs mostly through life experiences and her own study (and of course by reading Ayn Rand). But she was introduced to a much larger body of classical liberal ideas by another friend, Walter Block, a tireless and relentless "recruiter" for the cause of freedom. (I know of no one who is more effective in getting students — or anyone for that matter — interested in classical liberal ideas than Walter Block).
Walter and Ilana were both living in Vancouver, where Ilana wrote a column for a local newspaper. Upon learning that there was another libertarian in socialist Canada, Walter contacted Ilana and even convinced her to attend Mises University, the annual week-long "mini-university" in Auburn, Alabama, devoted to the study of the Austrian School of Economics. She attended other Mises institute conferences as well, and delved into the vast literature of classical liberalism. Shortly thereafter, she became a columnist for WorldNetDaily.
What is unique about Ilana’s columns — and it is this uniqueness that I tried to impress upon the young Grove City College student — is that they are all based on "first principles." These principles are nicely described in the first 84 pages of Broad Sides. Without such a grounding in principles, it is likely that most bright young journalists like the Grove City College student will evolve into mere cheerleaders for one political party or another. Propagandists for the state, in other words.
What are these principles? For one thing, "Democracy is for the dogs," the title of chapter one. Quoting legal scholar James Ostrowski, Ilana correctly points out that "Democracy is nothing more than the numerous and their manipulators bullying the less numerous." This is a most important point to keep in mind at all times, especially these days when the crazed neoconservative ideologues who have captured the U.S. government are using its powers to attempt to spread "democracy" all over the world at gunpoint.
Beware of creeping statism is another good piece of advice, offered in an essay on the dangers of the American public acting complacently as the state takes away more and more of their freedoms, one by one, through pervasive regulation. Tocqueville warned of this some 170 years ago, Ilana points out as she explains the contemporary relevance of the great French sage.
She also uses the Trent Lott fiasco of a few years back to educate Americans about what Strom Thurmond’s 1948 States’ Rights Party was really all about. Specifically, it was about stopping or stalling the march toward centralized governmental power that we all slave under today. Citing the great Felix Morley’s Freedom and Federalism, Ilana devotes two chapters to explaining the founders’ ideal of "divided sovereignty" and how its main purpose was to thwart the despotic proclivities of a centralized state. This is all lost on Americans today who, having attended government schools, have been brainwashed with the infantile notion that states’ rights is code-language for racism.
Along these same lines, Broad Sides celebrates Canada’s Western Separatism, a movement to incorporate states’ rights as a means of opposing federal despotism by our northern neighbor’s central government. My two favorite essays in this regard are "Honest Abe’s Legacy of Corruption," and "Taking America Back Means Taking Lincoln Down." I’m sure Ilana must have received a bundle of hate mail from neocons over these two essays, but she has them pegged in another essay entitled "Neocon Artists." (In a chapter entitled "Son of Uncle Sam" she correctly identifies the neocons as "global social democrats or rank leftists").
Unlike the regime-supporting puppet punditry, Ilana also understands that taxation is worse than theft — it is theft in support of socialism. "Fundamentally, taxes on income imply a complete denial of private property, which is what socialism is in all its permutations," she writes on page 15.
Nor would she be fooled by George W. Bush’s talk of phony tax cuts. Government spending is a better measure of "taxation" than mere tax revenues collected, for government will take the money out of our pockets one way or another to finance its spending — either through taxes, borrowing or printing money. This principle is expressed in another excellent essay entitled "The State Swells, Our Wealth Shrinks." Unlike the "conservative" pundits who lavishly praise Bush’s so-called tax cuts, Ilana understands the law of opportunity cost: Every dollar the government spends must be extracted one way or another from the private sector; there is no free lunch. And during the Bush regime government spending has increased at explosive levels not seen since the Johnson administration.
Armed with these (and other) first principles, Broad Sides consists of more than 100 essays on an extraordinary array of topics, from "The War on Tax Havens," "Commie Cars," "Who Stole Microsoft?," and "Phony Privatization" to "Sexual Bombast and Bliss," "Feminist Totems and Taboos," and "Wacko Jacko’s Child Play." "Eliminate Government-Funded Education" is one of my favorites. Criminal justice, the arts, and the "multicultural" attack on Western values are all themes of the book, in addition to myriad economic topics.
There are precious few "conservative" columnists who are aware of and cite the works of Murray Rothbard, Lew Rockwell, Ludwig von Mises, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Ayn Rand, Henry Hazlitt, Austrian School business cycle theory, Frdric Bastiat, Peter Bauer, John C. Calhoun, Frank Chodorov, Felix Morley, Tocqueville, Robert Higgs, Thomas Jefferson, Fritz Machlup, George Reisman, Lysander Spooner, Thomas Szasz, and Clyde Wilson, among others. All of these great writers are found in the index to Broad Sides. Try finding any of them in the index of any book by such "conservative" luminaries as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or Ann Coulter.
Ilana Mercer is perhaps the first "graduate" of the "Blockian School of Journalism." Let’s hope there are many more to follow.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, (Three Rivers Press/Random House). His latest book is How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold Story of Our Country’s History, from the Pilgrims to the Present (Crown Forum/Random House, August 2004).