If you want a preview of just how lame ideological mud-slinging is going to get over the next few years—or decades, possibly—take a look at this pair of articles penned by Mark Ames at Pando.com, a Bay Area-based website that, among other things, aspires “to bring more civility into the blogosophere.” The pieces charge Reason with being not a libertarian defender of “Free Minds and Free Markets” but a hotbed for pro-apartheid Holocaust deniers who slavishly do the bidding of David and Charles Koch (cue the monster-movie music, maestro).
Yeah, seriously. A publication that just celebrated “Marijuana on Main Street: The long, hard road to safe, legal pot,” covers the police brutality beat like nobody’s business, and criticized George W. Bush’s “disaster socialism” and his stupid wars for the entire eight awful years he was in the White House, is really a stalking horse for reactionary politics right out of The Turner Diaries.
However ridiculous such attacks may be, they are a sign that broadly libertarian ideas about fiscal responsibility and social tolerance are gaining ground in all areas of politics and culture. Indeed, as Ames frets, libertarianism is even making “major inroads into the disaffected left.”
As the conservative right and progressive left feel threatened by libertarianism, such attacks will multiply in number and intensify in venom. The main purpose is not to actually engage libertarian ideas—including once pie-in-the-sky beliefs that governments should be financially sustainable, gay people should be allowed to marry one another, and that more immigration is better than less immigration—but precisely to avoid discussing their merits.
In his response to the false idea that Reason supported apartheid in the 1970s, Reason’s Editor in Chief Matt Welch noted that Ames is “the anti-libertarian conspiracy theorist with a history of generating apology notes and speedy take-downs among those journalistic outlets still reckless enough to publish him.” Click through on those links to get a sense of just how reckless and inattentive a reader Ames can be.
In the newer post, Ames runs through Reason’s February 1976 issue that was billed as a “Special Revisionism Issue.” He has posted the entire issue, which I had not read before, online here (an incomplete online archive of Reason's run can be found here at the invaluable Unz.org site, which compiles hundreds of titles; we hope eventually to produce our own fully searchable, complete archive at our own site). Ames is correct that some of the contributors to that issue developed an interest in or were fellow travelers with that most pathetic area of study known as Holocaust revisionism or denialism. That scurrilous topic is not the focus of any of the articles in the issue, but the inclusion of contributors such as James J. Martin, who would go on to join the editorial board of the contemptible denialist outfit the Institute of Historical Review, is embarrassing. Another of that issue's contributors, Gary North, would later be excoriated in this 1998 Reason article for arguing in favor of violent theocracy and the stoning of gays and others.
The “revisionism” under discussion in the 1976 special issue refers to the movement that was popular especially among left-wing critics of the Cold War such as University of Wisconsin’s William Appleman Williams. Rather than accepting the United States’ self-justifying explanations for the wars it fought and the domestic policies it pursued, revisionists typically focused on less noble motives in ways that they believed illuminated uncomfortable truths. In The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, for instance, Williams argued that America’s “Open Door” foreign policy was not about spreading democracy or human rights but was actually a way for America’s leaders to escape domestic issues caused by racial strife and capitalism’s “contradictions.” You can take or leave that particular argument, but there's no question that Williams and other revisionists brought a huge amount of energy to the fields of history and political science.
In the Reason issue, various authors discuss, among other things, what sort of foreknowledge of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Franklin Roosevelt may have had and how actors other than Nazi Germany bear some responsibility for the start of World War Il. Some of the material holds up, such as the observation from then-Senior Editor Tibor Machan that “the Nazis were worse than the Americans or allied nations, and...the Soviet Union is a more vicious government, even in international affairs, than is the U.S. government. This does not mean, emphatically, that I believe FDR to have been an angel during World War II, or Wilson to have been the paragon of diplomatic and political virtue in World War I.” Such a view has become the baseline of virtually all contemporary discussions on such topics.
Much of the material from the issue doesn’t hold up, which is hardly surprising for a magazine issue published almost 40 years ago. Even as the various writers warn explicitly against uncritically accepting revisionist accounts out of inborn contrarianism, there is a generally adolescent glee in being iconoclastic that I find both uninteresting and unconvincing. However, to characterize the issue as a “holocaust denial ‘special issue,’” as Ames does, is an example of how quickly he can lose his always-already weak grasp on reality.
As is his obsession, widely shared on the left and increasingly among centrist Democrats, with fingering the Koch brothers as the motive force in the decline of everything that is good and decent in the world:
Reason isn’t just any magazine — since 1970, Reason has been backed by the richest and most politically engaged oligarchs alive, Charles and David Koch. The Kochs are almost singlehandedly responsible for giving us libertarianism, a radical-right version of neoliberalism that has steered the Republican Party agenda for decades now, and has made major inroads into the disaffected left as well. Reason is the respectable, “educated” blue state face of the Kochs’ libertarian network.
Not just any magazine? Respectable and “educated”? We’ll take compliments, even ones in scare quotes, when we get them. As I wrote in The Daily Beast after interviewing the author of the critical new biography, Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty, there’s no question that “one of the reasons we’re having this conversation” about the size, scope, and spending of government “is the Koch brothers.” David Koch has been been on the board of trustees of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason magazine, Reason.com, and Reason TV, since the early 1990s and Charles Koch has donated over the years.
None of this is secret or in any way scandalous. While they play no role in our editorial process we appreciate their support, which helps us generate the sort of journalism that took home six prizes at the 56th annual Southern California Awards in June (among our winning entries were a feature-length documentary critiquing drug prohibition, "America's Longest War"; Matt Welch’s brilliant essay recovering Jackie Robinson’s incredible and wrongly forgotten 1964 oral history of baseball’s integration; and the short video "LA County Sheriffs Hassle Photographer, Trample Constitution, Get Lauded by Bosses”).
Since 1968, Reason has been pushing for "free minds and free markets" in a principled, across-the-board way because we think those things will create not just a richer and more interesting world but a more just and peaceful world too. I realize that not everyone will agree with those goals or our positions on everything (those on the right tend to recoil from our pro-choice position on abortion just as those on the left tend to hate our pro-choice postion on school choice). But if you give a rat's ass about whether policies actually work the way they are advertised, whether your government is lying to you and spying on you, whether bureaucrats should be in control of more and more areas of your lives, and whether people should be given the ability to run their own "experiments in living" (as John Stuart Mill called them), you'll find a lot of interesting stuff in our pages and videos. Our 46-year history of promoting freedom has already done and will continue to do a hell of a lot more to improve humanity than the radical left or right, and certainly than the Mark Ameses of the world can ever dream of doing.
Interest in our work is growing precisely because of our willingness to engage in honest conversation and analysis rather than fever-swamp ramblings and unconvincing arguments ad funderam. Given the general level of exhaustion with conventional right-wing and left-wing ideology, with Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, there’s a real interest in something different. To the extent that we’re providing an alternative way to view politics and culture, we’ll bug the hell out of folks who feel like we’re making “major inroads” into what they took to be their own captive audience. Suffering inaccurate, misleading, and over-the-top attacks on our credibility and integrity is just part of the landscape of the world in which we live. We'll correct them when they're wrong and take it on the chin when they're right. Reason is happy to acknowledge missteps and mistakes while also forcefully pushing back against blatant misreadings of our past and current work.