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In 2003, to celebrate 35 years of publishing a monthly magazine dedicated to Free Minds and Free Markets, reason named “35 Heroes of Freedom”—innovators, economists, singers, anti-communists, pornographers, professional athletes, and even the occasional politician who contributed to making the world a freer place since 1968.
These weren’t necessarily the 35 best human beings to span the globe. Richard Nixon, for example, was selected for encouraging “cynicism about government” through his rampant abuses of power. And, well, let’s say Dennis Rodman hasn’t aged particularly well. But the list reflected the happy, unpredictable cacophony that has helped liberate the world one novel or deregulation or electric guitar at a time.
Our 45th anniversary has come along at a darker time. The post-9/11 lurch toward unchecked law enforcement power has now become a permanent feature of our bipartisan consensus, with a Democratic president now ordering assassinations of American teenagers and with millions of Americans unaware that the feds are combing through their telecommunications. Keynesians in Washington responded to the financial crisis of 2008 by ushering in a lost decade of government spending, sluggish growth, and the worst employment numbers since Jimmy Carter was president. And after an initially promising Arab Spring, whole swaths of the Middle East seem poised for a long, sectarian, transnational war.
So it’s fitting that this time around we’re anointing reason’s 45 Enemies of Freedom. Again, these aren’t the worst human beings who bestrode the planet since 1968 (though Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden rank right down there). Some, like John McCain, are even genuine American heroes. What unites them is their active effort to control individuals rather than allow them free choice, to wield power recklessly rather than act on the recognition that the stuff inherently corrupts, and to popularize lies in a world that's desperate for truth.
You’ll see some familiar names there (we can’t quit you, Tricky Dick!) and some others that deserve to be more notorious. But in our otherwise alphabetical list we’ll start with the man who nearly everyone on our staff nominated, a figure who embodies so much that is wrong with public policy and the political conversation in these United States.
1. Michael Bloomberg
Here is how New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained the importance of his widely derided 16-ounce limit on servings of sugar-sweetened beverages after a state judge overturned it last March: “We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other, to save the lives of ourselves, our families, our friends, and all of the rest of the people that live on God’s planet.” Bloomberg literally thinks he is saving the world one slightly smaller serving of soda at a time.
As grandiose as that may seem, it is consistent with Bloomberg’s view of government. A few years ago in a speech at the United Nations, he declared that “to halt the worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases, governments at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option,” which he described as “government’s highest duty.” On Bloomberg’s to-do list for government, apparently, defending us against our own unhealthy habits ranks above defending us against foreign invaders or marauding criminals.
Public health is not the only area where Bloomberg’s authoritarian tendencies are apparent. There is his enthusiasm for gun control, his illegal crackdown on pot smokers, and his unflagging defense of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program, which portrays the Fourth Amendment as a gratuitous barrier to effective policing. But his determination to halt “epidemics” of risky behavior shows him at his most arrogantly ambitious.
Bloomberg has pursued that goal not only by meddling with people’s drink orders but by banning trans fats, pressuring food companies to reduce the salt content of their products, imposing heavy cigarette taxes, severely restricting the locations where people are allowed to smoke (even outdoors), mandating anti-smoking posters in stores that sell cigarettes (a policy that, like his big beverage ban, was rejected by the courts), and proposing a rule that would require merchants to hide tobacco products from people who might want to buy them.
The attitude driving Bloomberg’s crusade to “make healthy solutions the default social option” is reflected in another comment he made after his pint-sized pop prescription ran into legal trouble. “It was not a setback for me,” said the billionaire with degrees from Johns Hopkins and Harvard. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I watch my diet. This is not for me.” No, indeed. It is for those poor, benighted souls who think it is acceptable to drink a 20-ounce soda.
2. Idi Amin
The bombastic Ugandan dictator and self-appointed Conqueror of the British Empire lived in luxury during his 1970s rule while overseeing a unique brand of sadism that included mass killings, forced deportations, and torture.
3. Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Maricopa County, Arizona’s chief law enforcement officer is famous mostly for publicly degrading inmates: forcing them to live in a tent city, work on chain gangs, wear pink underwear. Meanwhile, his more serious transgressions receive far less attention. Arpaio has created citizen posses to track down and arrest illegal immigrants, overseen a jail staff that has violently abused inmates (resulting in the death of three prisoners and the paralysis of a fourth), and used law enforcement resources to harass and intimidate his political opponents.
4. Osama bin Laden
His desire to impose an Islamic caliphate marks the late terrorist as decidedly anti-liberty. But Osama bin Laden’s real crime against freedom was masterminding the murderous 9/11 terror attacks, which not only slaughtered nearly 3,000 people, but also inspired the U.S. government to react with overseas wars, the PATRIOT Act, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Transportation Security Administration. It is thanks in no small part to bin Laden that the United States is far less free.
5. Leonid Brezhnev
Give Brezhnev credit for this much: He made it a lot harder to imagine that communism would be exciting. If Stalin was the supervillain who made the Soviet Union an empire and Khrushchev was the Cold War confrontationist, Brezhnev was the bland figure who enforced a deadly conformity. An adept at bureaucratic warfare, Brezhnev consolidated his power over the course of the ’60s and ’70s as he spread his mixture of economic stagnation and banal totalitarianism throughout the eastern bloc.
6. Fidel Castro
His iron grip over Cuba lasted for more than 50 years of individual, physical, and social ruin. Though Castro formally stepped down as leader in 2008, he passed the reins of the police state to his brother and still serves as an elder statesman of the least free country in the Western Hemisphere.
7. Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney makes the list instead of George W. Bush or Barack Obama because the former vice president provided the intellectual and legal template that both presidents followed to curtail our freedoms. In the wake of 9/11, Cheney, a lifelong defender of executive branch power, pushed the Bush administration to increase secrecy, surveillance, and war. It’s the most lasting legacy in a four-decade career that includes intimate involvement in both Iraq wars, plus the conflicts in Afghanistan, Panama, and Somalia.
8. Hillary Clinton
“It takes a village,” Hillary Clinton famously wrote, and we’ve learned since that her meaning encompassed villages in Iraq and Afghanistan to house American troops, villages of taxpayers to fund her favored programs, and villages of snoops to staff a national security state. Those villages must be prudish, too, given Clinton’s longstanding fear of video-game sex. To Hillary’s credit, she does advocate Internet freedom for villages overseas. Too bad she doesn’t promote the same idea at home.
9. Paul Ehrlich
In 1968’s dystopian bestseller The Population Bomb, this biologist predicted that “hundreds of millions” would die in massive famines in the 1970s. Erlich lamented that it was technically and politically impossible to sterilize people through the water and food supplies, the antidote for which would be rationed by the government. Meanwhile, on a mostly voluntary basis, the global fertility rate has fallen by more than half since the 1960s. Freedom, and the economic growth it generates, turn out to be the best contraceptive.
10. Dianne Feinstein
Say Feinstein’s name in front of anybody who takes the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution seriously and watch that person’s face curdle. The California senator’s federal assault weapons ban, which passed in 1994 and expired in 2004, failed to have any noticeable impact on crime rates. She didn’t allow such facts to keep her from using the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 to unsuccessfully attempt to reinstate the ban. Like the National Rifle Association, she also blames youth violence on video games and has threatened new regulations on that industry as well.
11. Daryl Gates
Inventor of the SWAT team and four-star general in America’s war on drugs, Gates is as responsible as any other law enforcement officer for the blunt, pseudo- military instrument our police forces have become. Thanks to significant incidences of wrong-door raids and dangerous prank calls that send SWAT teams to innocent families’ homes, Americans don’t even have to be doing drugs or breaking any laws to witness the fruits of Gates’ labor.
12. Newt Gingrich
Gingrich rose to fame as a politician, but he’s more like an annoying dinner-party guest: He’ll say anything to get attention. During the 2012 campaign, the former speaker of the House called fellow Republican Paul Ryan’s budget proposal a “radical” form of “right-wing social engineering”—but later said he’d vote for it. In 2005, he declared his support for an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, even going so far as to predict that it could be done in a way to “make most libertarians relatively happy.” By 2012, he was saying the mandate was “fundamentally wrong” and “unconstitutional.” Gingrich never truly stands for anything except himself.
13. Steven Hayne
For 20 years, Mississippi prosecutors looking for a way to put a friendly thumb on the scales of justice turned to Dr. Steven Hayne. A graduate of Brown Medical School, Hayne performed roughly 1,500 autopsies per year at the behest of prosecutors—1,175 more per year than is permitted by the National Association of Medical Examiners. The result? A lot of bad evidence and a lot of faulty convictions. Thanks to Radley Balko’s investigatory work in reason and elsewhere, Hayne is no longer performing autopsies in Mississippi. Sadly, the number of false convictions he contributed to is suspected to be in the hundreds.
14. Eric Hobsbawm
Until his death last year at the age of 95, British historian Eric Hobsbawm enjoyed the dubious honor of being perhaps the world’s most prominent academic apologist for communism. Asked in 1994 if the murder of “15, 20 million people might have been justified” if the result was the establishment of a Marxist society, the lifelong Communist Party member replied, “yes.”
15. J. Edgar Hoover
The FBI’s investigations into militias during the 1990s and Muslims in the 2000s trace their roots to the tenure of James Edgar Hoover. The agency’s longest-serving director, Hoover was famous for investigating groups that challenged the American government and its empire. He spied on and entrapped leftists, and he smeared and undermined civil rights leaders.
16. Jeffrey Immelt
In fairness, anyone who ran General Electric would probably make this list. Not because the blue-chip energy/media/whatever company is particularly evil, but because it’s particularly big, and as such it’s a natural poster boy for modern-day crony capitalism. GE has spent more than $200 million on lobbying already this young century. Immelt, head of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, reacted to the 2008 financial crisis by claiming, “The interaction between government and business will change forever.…The government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.” That’s exactly the problem.
17. Michael Jacobson
The most zealous of the foodie nanny-staters, Michael Jacobson is the guy who makes Mayor Bloomberg seem like a reasonable moderate. The Ralph Nader protégé co-founded the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 1971 to fight for fat taxes, ominous warning labels, and laws requiring that broadcasters give a minute advertising time to broccoli for each minute of Froot Loops. His group, he once said, “is proud about finding something wrong with practically everything.”
18. Ed Jagels
During the 1980s, Kern County (California) District Attorney Ed Jagels led the nation in prosecuting bogus Satanic child molestation cases. Without any physical evidence, Jagels, his prosecutors, and local police coached and cajoled children into accusing their parents and neighbors of sexual abuse that never actually happened. Years later, when witnesses recanted, Jagels called them liars. Eventually, 25 of his 26 Satanic molestation convictions were overturned.
19. Leon Kass
As the propounder of the idea of “the wisdom of repugnance,” philosopher Leon Kass holds that viscera trump reason. Kass opposed in vitro fertilization on the grounds that it was dehumanizing, but the more than 5 million IVF babies born since then have been quite human. As head of George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, Kass sought to ban research on potentially lifesaving technologies such as human embryonic stem cells and cloning. He argues against using human ingenuity to liberate ourselves from the natural horrors of disease, disability, and death.
20. Ruhollah Khomeini
Leader of the Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah, the ayatollah created the modern blueprint for an atavistic, Islamic revolution. As Iran’s supreme leader, Khomeini ordered the murder of his political opponents, waged a deadly war with Iraq, supported the sacking of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and offered a bounty on the head of Salman Rushdie.
21. Henry Kissinger
As secretary of state and national security advisor under presidents Nixon and Ford, Kissinger embodied a ruthless, amoral vision of America’s place in the world. From the “secret” bombing of Cambodia to the “Christmas” bombing of North Vietnam, from his complicity in the coup that installed a repressive dictatorship in Chile to his green light for Indonesia’s bloody occupation of East Timor, Kissinger may not be the only answer to the question “Why do they hate us?”—but he’s a far larger part of the answer than any one man should be.
22. Naomi Klein
Before her 2007 book Shock Doctrine slandered all of modern libertarian thought as a scam dreamed up by the dictator-loving rich to screw over the poor, Klein had a noisy and altogether self-defeating career as an anti-branding activist. Her “No Logo” campaign and 2000 book, designed to ride the wave of anti-globalization to lead a revolt against advertising, instead became a go-to manual for marketers seeking to exploit the yearning for authenticity. Meanwhile, the anti-globalization movement died a richly deserved death.
23. Paul Krugman
The Nobel-winning economist and New York Times columnist is a reliable advocate of economic intervention and deficit spending, arguing that the problem with failed government stimulus programs to fight the recession of the ’00s was that they didn’t go far enough. Krugman’s low point in 2012 was recommending (only mostly in jest) that it would be a good thing if the government wasted huge sums of taxpayer money preparing for an alien invasion. Keep this man’s hands away from any rocks—he might try to break nearby windows to “stimulate” the economy.
The sneering (fictional) baddie in the 2012 superhero blockbuster, The Avengers, sticks to a familiar supervillain playbook: His aim is world domination, and he’s got a cosmic doohicky and an army of alien invaders to make it happen. But the justification he offers for his global power grab sounds more like a terrestrial dictator: “It’s the unspoken truth of humanity,” he tells a cowering crowd, “that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled.” Fortunately, like all supervillains, he was made to be defeated.
25. Jeffrey Loria
A successful New York art dealer (unlike you, he owns an original Picasso), Loria spent years pleading poverty to the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County so that they would pay for a fancy new stadium to house his professional baseball franchise, the Marlins. Locals finally agreed to cover what’s projected to be $2.4 billion in costs, only to discover that Loria had actually been turning large profits while fielding a mediocre, underpaid team. With his stadium safely finished, Loria promptly dismantled his club, which is now the worst in Major League Baseball.
26. Mao Tse-Tung
As the founder and leader of the People’s Republic of China, this Communist despot’s cruelly stupid collectivist policies killed at least 35 million Chinese citizens. He kept the hundreds of millions who managed to survive in impoverished bondage until his death in 1976.
27. John McCain
It is possible to be both an enemy of freedom and a genuine American hero. John McCain endured unbearable punishments and greatly boosted camp morale during his five-year Viet Cong prison stint, for which he deserves our gratitude. He has also been among the most consistently interventionist politicians in the United States Senate, agitating for never-ending “rogue-state rollback” while focusing his war at home on political speech and the healthy American trait he derides as “cynicism.” It’s fitting McCain would close out his career barking sporadic insults (like “wacko bird”) at a new generation of more libertarian legislators.
28. Jenny McCarthy
A second-string actress who has managed to stay in the limelight by promoting the bogus theory that vaccines cause autism, McCarthy traffics in pseudoscience and fear. Partly as a result of her widely publicized yet scientifically ignorant pronouncements, hundreds of thousands of fearful parents have needlessly endangered the health and lives of their children.
29. Robert McNamara
Did anyone fuse the roles of technocrat and destroyer more completely than Robert Strange McNamara? He was a functionary from Ford Motor Company when John F. Kennedy brought him in to run the Pentagon, and in that role he systematically escalated the Vietnam War as though the conflict were an assembly line. When he took over the World Bank in 1968, he continued to couple technocratic planning with mass destruction, sponsoring vast “development projects” whose most notable effect was to evict peasants from their land. Robert McNamara: the Organization Man as monster.
30. Newton Minow
The godfather of boob-tube nannying, Minow was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 1961 to 1963. There he was a key advocate for the regulation of television. In a 1961 speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, he famously described the era’s television programming as a “vast wasteland,” railed against the medium’s “mayhem, violence, sadism, murder,” and proposed that TV content should be strictly regulated in the name of the “public interest.”
31. Robert Moses
The most authoritarian city planner in New York history, Moses wielded eminent domain and many other government powers, unleashing his bulldozers and wrecking balls on the homes, businesses, and churches of as many as half a million powerless citizens, many of them black, brown, or poor.
32. Robert Mugabe
The racist, homophobic, and corrupt president of Zimbabwe has overseen record levels of inflation, destroying the purchasing power of citizens in a previously much more prosperous country. Forbidden from exiting the country with any assets, Zimbabweans have had to live under Mugabe’s brutal misrule for decades.
33. Richard Nixon
This American president launched the modern drug war, imposed wage and price controls, kept a pointless war going in Vietnam long after he knew it was hopeless, and imposed massive new bureaucracies on the American economy. Nixon’s vision of government in general had no clear limits, and his view of executive power helped him commit and collude in crimes that he thought were not crimes because he did them. Richard Nixon should be a cautionary tale for all future presidents, but all too often he serves as an example.
34. Henry Paulson
When the nation’s financial markets collapsed in the fall of 2008, Hank Paulson, secretary of the treasury for President George W. Bush, came in with guns blazing. In September of 2008, he proposed the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), a scheme he falsely advertised as a way to remove “illiquid assets that are weighing down our financial institutions and threatening our economy.” Instead it became a justification for an endless series of bailouts, including of non-banks like General Motors. Even TARP’s biggest proponents acknowledge that the economy has underperformed the past five years.
35. Sean Penn
When not chewing the scenery in overrated Oscar-winning films, the multimillionaire brother of Christopher Penn spends much of his time acting as an apologist for authoritarians like the late Hugo Chavez and the still-breathing Fidel Castro. When Chavez died, Penn said: “the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion.” That’s one way of putting it.
36. Pol Pot
A French school flunkie turned peasant revolutionary, Pol Pot might have been the most efficient murderer in communism’s grisly history. It took the dictator and his Khmer Rouge less than four years to kill and centrally plan to death up to 3 million people—20 percent of the Cambodian population.
37. Vladimir Putin
While many were optimistic that Russia would manage to modernize after almost a century of Marxist misery, the former KGB agent and Russian president has vindicated skeptics of liberal progress while clamping down on free speech, mucking about in Russia’s “near abroad,” and supporting horrid governments such as the Assad regime in Syria.
38. Bruce Ratner
A real estate tycoon and serial beneficiary of eminent domain abuse, Ratner partnered with New York officials in 2001 to forcibly evict some 55 midtown businesses standing in the way of a new headquarters for the New York Times Company. A few years later in Brooklyn, Ratner and his government allies seized and razed dozens of homes and businesses in order to build a basketball arena for a team then owned by Ratner himself.
39. Diane Ravitch
A school reformer turned union flack, this New York University professor did an about-face after four decades as one of the nation’s most prominent charter advocates. Part of the right-wing think tank braintrust that hatched the initial policy proposals for vouchers, she now says “Vouchers are a con, intended to destroy public education.” She has been welcomed with open arms by defenders of the status quo.
40. John Rawls
The philosophical father of 20th century liberalism, Rawls’ seminal Theory of Justice (1971) has dominated moral and political philosophy for decades. His framing of “justice as fairness” and his notion that societies should be arranged to improve the lot of the least advantaged subtly underpin nearly all of our national policy debates, lending a justification to multitudinous extensions of state power. His longtime rival, the libertarian thinker Robert Nozick, offered an alternative based in property rights and personal liberty. Sadly, Rawls has been more influential.
41. Charles Schumer
If (bad) conservative screenwriters set out to create a smugly liberal, lens-hungry New York senator, they’d come up with Charles Schumer—and they’d be criticized for creating a strawman. But Schumer is, somehow, real. He crusades sneeringly against guns, drugs, breakfast cereal, cybercurrencies, and caffeinated powders while supporting security-state legislation and cozying up with crony capitalists on Wall Street.
42. Steven Seagal
Starring in 20 of the worst action flicks ever made, all with titles like Above the Law and Executive Decision, Seagal also produced several ludicrous environmental message-movies, including one that ends with his character giving a four-minute speech about how “the internal combustion engine has been obsolete for 50 years.” He has made two truly awful records and been serially accused of sexual harassment, but what separates Seagal from most Hollywood scumbags is that he has also actively participated in gross law enforcement abuse, including a raid in Arizona that damaged a man’s house and killed his puppy.
43. Lamar Smith
The Internet threatened to shut down in protest last year when Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill that sought to grant movie studios and record labels unprecedented power to police copyright. Under SOPA, studios and labels would’ve had the power to block offending sites from showing up in Google search results, and the authority to tell service providers which sites their customers couldn’t visit. In an Orwellian twist, SOPA also would have empowered “content creators” to prevent Internet users from discussing—on Facebook and other social media sites—how to circumvent SOPA.
44. Aaron Sorkin
A virtual assembly line for fictional authority-worship, Sorkin is the dramatist of choice for progressive technocrats. In the worlds detailed in West Wing and The Newsroom, all of America’s problems could be solved if those dumb, undereducated conservatives and independents would listen to their incorruptible Ivy League betters. Sorkin longs for an imaginary golden age of American government that never existed. Bonus points for being just as misogynist as any of the archconservatives he loathes.
45. Elizabeth Warren
One of the left’s foremost academic activists, Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat recently elected to the Senate, is a Harvard professor with a history of using shoddy scholarship to promote dubious public policies. She has exaggerated the prevalence of medical bankruptcy, argued that student loan rates should be set equal to bank loan rates, and pushed for controls on everything from credit cards to home loans. Warren’s life project amounts to an argument that most people are too stupid to know what to do with their money unless the government steps in to help.
Click here to cast your own vote for the biggest enemies of freedom.