Jim Verhulst - Deputy Editor of Editorials
Two kinds of liberty, the military-industrial complex, a low bar for president | Readings
Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor co-authored the seminal work "On Liberty."
John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor co-authored the seminal work "On Liberty." [ Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons ]
Published May 13

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.


From “The Outer Limits Of Liberalism,” by David Brooks (who is not a liberal but this essay hits a different note) in The Atlantic.

The context from the author: I’d like to walk with you through one battlefield in the current crisis of liberalism, to show you how liberalism is now threatened by an extreme version of itself, and how we might recover a better, more humane liberalism — something closer to what the Mills had in mind in the first place (in writing “On Liberty”).

The excerpt: Autonomy-based liberalism starts with one core conviction: I possess myself. I am a piece of property that I own. Because I possess property rights to myself, I can dispose of my property as I see fit. My life is a project that I am creating, and nobody else has the right to tell me how to build or dispose of my one and only life. The purpose of my life, in this version of liberalism, is to be happy — to live a life in which my pleasures, however I define them, exceed my pains. ... But there is another version of liberalism. Let’s call this gifts-based liberalism. It starts with a different core conviction: I am a receiver of gifts. I am part of a long procession of humanity. I have received many gifts from those who came before me, including the gift of life itself.

From “The Military-Industrial Complex Has Never Been Worse,” by Ben Freeman and William Hartung in Jacobin.

The context, from the authors: How bad has the military-industrial complex gotten? The arms industry donates tens of millions of dollars every election cycle, and the average taxpayer spends $1,087 per year on weapons contractors compared to just $270 for K-12 education.

The excerpt: More than 60 years after (President Dwight) Eisenhower identified the problem and gave it a name, the military-industrial complex continues to use its unprecedented influence to corrupt budget and policy processes, starve funding for nonmilitary solutions to security problems, and ensure that war is the ever-more likely “solution” to this country’s problems. The question is: What can be done to reduce its power over our lives, our livelihoods, and ultimately, the future of the planet?

From “The Epidemic of Mass Shootings Is Neither Inevitable Nor Unsolvable,” by Mark Follman in Mother Jones.

The context, from the author: We can start by rejecting the big politicized myths that stand in our way.

The excerpt: Diminishing this American nightmare is going to take many different forms of action: continuing a relentless, long-term effort to strengthen our nation’s gun laws. Quashing a surge in violent political extremism. Investing in a lacking mental health care system. And building community-based violence prevention programs. In a society with 400 million firearms and where firearms are often easy to obtain, even all that may only be a start.

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From “America’s Lowest Standard,” by Charles Sykes in The Atlantic.

The context, from the author: Try to imagine anyone like Donald Trump surviving in any other segment of our society — business, entertainment, sports, the military.

The excerpt: (In supporting the Electoral College, Alexander) Hamilton thought that he had fireproofed the presidency from mountebanks and charlatans because we would seek out only the best and the brightest among us. Instead, we have apparently saved our lowest standards for the presidency. At this point, the Senate would be unlikely to confirm Trump’s appointment to any other position of trust. Someone with Trump’s character would not be granted a security clearance at any level of government. We wouldn’t let the man babysit our children or even walk the dog. We would definitely not buy a used car from the guy. But we might give him back the nuclear codes and control over the military, the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, and the Department of Justice. Americans might make him, once again, the face of America.

From “The Death of the Reader, and of Democracy,” by Alexander Zubatov in The American Conservative.

The context, from the author: That people do not read much anymore is, at this point, news to no one. ... Nor is the largely audio-visual culture we now have a substitute for what has been lost.

The excerpt: People who read widely and deeply — and as a consequence, take ownership over their own convictions and arrive at their own personal truths — cannot be herded. It is, thus, only a democracy in which such people, with all their disparate preferences, can peaceably co-exist. Conversely, any society without a critical mass of reader-interpreters with their own idiosyncratic, non-conforming views cannot long abide as a democracy.

From “Parents to Blame for Carless, Sexless Teenagers,” by Luther Ray Abel in The National Review.

The context, from the author: Much has been written about the American teenager’s cooling passions for the similarly tactile diversions of driving and sexual intercourse. Parents, and their willingness to facilitate the lives of their teens while overprotecting their children’s bodies at the cost of their minds, are at least partially to blame. Kids have never been more risk-averse, indicating a shift toward timidity; we should deny it a foothold on our shores.

The excerpt: Parents owe their teens the ability to be free enough to fail before they’re out of the house — owe them the ability to taste freedom while still answering to a higher authority that isn’t a lawman. And kids need to know what it is to lack — to want what they cannot have today but can work toward having tomorrow. Ultimately, the issue is one of our diminishing ability to accommodate risk. Told by the world to stay home lest they endanger their elders, teens today have responded to the fear by turning inward. America is in the risk business; it always has been.