Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tucker’s Apologia

Apologia is a form of practiced rhetoric used in self-defense and as the vindication of a person, and of a course of action. The apologia is a persuasive rhetorical device common to politics and to public relations, and is an analytical term in genre criticism. An apologia is a defense of one's actions. Unlike an apology, it does not require the speaker to express remorse for wrongdoing.

The etymology of apologia (Greek: ἀπολογία) derives from the root word apologos (ἀπόλογος), “a story”. The Greek philosophers Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle described apologia as a genre of rhetoric, in which the orator persuasively explains and defends his actions and himself against an accusation, and earns vindication from and re-acceptance to the polity.

Jeffrey Tucker has come to the defense of Mark Skousen and his so-called FreedomFest.  The most glaring issue that has caught the attention of the actual freedom community is the invitation to and speech of Donald Trump.  To me personally, this is irrelevant; I have noted numerous occasions of Skousen’s deviations from anything resembling freedom as well as his deviations from Austrian economics, the first time as long as five years ago (very early in the life of this mosquito). 

So Skousen has Trump at a conference about Freedom?  Wake me up when you have some news.

Of course, others have noted Skousen’s…what shall I call them…peccadillos long before I have.  Most infamous, perhaps, was from his very brief tenure at FEE:

Skousen served as president of the free market nonprofit Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2001 to 2002.

Skousen's brief tenure as president of FEE ended on a controversial note when he resigned in late 2002 at the request of the organization's Board of Trustees. This move followed Skousen's decision to invite, as keynote speaker for FEE's annual Liberty Banquet, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani proved to be an extremely unpopular choice among many of the organization's board members as well as several prominent libertarians.

So now we come to Tucker’s defense of Skousen, his apologia.  Most of Tucker’s post is a review of Trump’s speech, irrelevant to this post other than to demonstrate just how far from “freedom” Donald Trump lives.  Big surprise.

In the middle of the post are two paragraphs, the apologia:

As an aside, I mean no criticism of FreedomFest’s organizer Mark Skousen in allowing Trump to speak at this largely libertarian gathering. Mark invited every Republican candidate to address the 2,200-plus crowd. Only two accepted. Moreover, Mark is a very savvy businessman himself, and this conference operates on a for-profit basis. He does not have the luxury of giving the microphone to only people who pass the libertarian litmus test. His goal is to put on display the ideas that matter in our time and assess them by the standards of true liberty.

It seems that the purpose of FreedomFest is not to discuss actual freedom, but “ideas that matter in our time.”  That’s good to know, as I need not raise this lack-of-freedom-discussed-at-FreedomFest criticism in the future (I need not, but I probably will…annually).

In my view, it was a brilliant decision to let him speak. Lovers of freedom need to confront the views of a man with views like this. What’s more, of all the speeches I heard at FreedomFest, I learned more from this one than any other. I heard, for the first time in my life, what a modern iteration of a consistently statist but non-leftist outlook on politics sounds and feels like in our own time. And I watched as most of the audience undulated between delight and disgust — with perhaps only 10% actually cheering his descent into vituperative anti-intellectualism. That was gratifying.

It seems to me that “lovers of freedom” have hundreds of outlets to listen to people speak about things other than freedom.  It turns out that FreedomFest is just another CNN, MSNBC, or Republican Party Convention. 

We read of Freedom Fest, from the official web site:

FreedomFest is an annual festival where free minds meet to celebrate “great books, great ideas, and great thinkers” in an open-minded society. It is independent, non-partisan, and not affiliated with any organization or think tank. Founded and produced by Mark Skousen since 2002, FreedomFest invites the “best and the brightest” from around the world to talk, strategize, socialize, and celebrate liberty. FreedomFest is open to all and is purely egalitarian, where speakers, attendees, and exhibitors are treated as equals.

Skousen should change his “About” page.  According to Tucker, FreedomFest is not intended to “talk, strategize, socialize, and celebrate liberty.”  Instead, it is “to put on display the ideas that matter in our time and assess them by the standards of true liberty.”  It is intended to give people a chance to “confront the views of a man with views like this.”

OK, fine by me.  Thanks for clarifying.

Well, wait a minute.   

Let’s see if other conferences employ the same strategy, you know, bring in numerous speakers who hold views different than, if not diametrically opposed, to the supposed purpose of the conference.

How about a conference on conservative family values?

Family Life: FamilyLife experts have devoted their lives bringing biblical principles to people in ways that positively change their lives.

Their mission: FamilyLife's mission is to effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.

I searched the entire site.  I didn’t find a single speaker or workshop on the joys of prostitution, the benefits of pre-marital sex, or divorce as a hobby; not even a seminar on the difference between scotch and whiskey…or whisky.  None. 

What about a political conference?  Perhaps the Liberal Democrats in the UK?  I checked the agenda, not one mention of anarcho-capitalist or even minarchist political theories.  Maybe they could invite Hans Hoppe next year?

What about Comic-Con?

Comic-Con International: San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.

Not one thing about soap operas or sporting events as a better use of time.  Check the schedule of events: lots of Conan and Seinfeld, no General Hospital.

No other conference that I found employs the Skousen FreedomFest strategy – talk about everything other than the supposed purpose of the conference.  Now, I haven’t checked thousands of conferences, just three.  But it is three for three.

OK, I will check one more.  How about hobbies?

The National Model Railroad Association, Inc. advances the global scale model railroading community through education, advocacy, standards, and social interaction.

I checked their convention page.  You know what?  They actually have some non-rail activities; maybe I was wrong!

There will be a full schedule of activities for attendees that are not that interested in Trains. Portland is a very family friendly city, and we would like as many families as possible to attend.

Well, wait a minute.  The non-rail activities are not for the conference attendees.

Maybe Skousen can advertise FreedomFest in a like manner, except that the non-freedom activities are the actual conference, just like he has it.  So, how about some non-non-freedom activities at FreedomFest, you know, where actual freedom is discussed.

Sounds confusing?  I know.  Maybe that’s the point.


  1. Well, maybe (from what Jeff said) it's like Statist PORN?!?
    This guy is such a fascist, you'll get all wet and stuff listening to him rant!
    Or, yeah, he's so (in)famous, he'll sell tickets. (see above).
    What a waste of time.
    I'm so glad I'm no longer a resident, and can't (won't) vote.
    P.S. I'm still a citizen, so I have the great privilege of paying income taxes.

  2. These are great arguments, and I want to embrace them fully. But Tucker's apologia, while a little naive, also has an aspect of merit. I did find Tucker’s dissection of the nature of the fascist statist modus operandi enlightening and informative.

    Is the admittance of speakers with anti-liberty positions completely and always incompatible with a liberty-themed event? For example, I've been to many Bitcoin conferences including speakers who are government agents. Hearing their views on Bitcoin which were of course philosophically contrary to everything Bitcoin stands for, was shocking, horrifying, and nausea-inducing, yet also deeply enlightening as to how the enemy thinks and acts. An enemy that currently controls the battlefield. Not having them there in some way to inform the larger discussion would be something of an omission.

    In any case, Skousen was plainly not inviting Trump for this reason and Trump added no insights not already widely available from his other speeches at mainstream events. Skousen was clearly just pimping out the combination of the word “Freedom” and the brand “Trump” at the same event for marketing purposes to maximize his own revenue and public visibility. While it may land butts in seats and grab media exposure, putting popular anti-liberty speakers up as keynotes as if on par with libertarians at a so-called liberty event is a gross reinforcement of the public misperception of what liberty is. The struggle over that perception is half the battle we are fighting.

    1. “Is the admittance of speakers with anti-liberty positions completely and always incompatible with a liberty-themed event?”

      I assume the Bitcoin conference that you mention was a Bitcoin conference and not a pro-Bitcoin conference….

      A conference on freedom should, it seems to me, be about freedom.

      A real debate on a libertarian position vs. a statist position would be fine. A handful of speakers on issues of controversy, sure. Yet, the main advertised events of FreedomFest have nothing to do with freedom. Trump, Krugman / Moore, etc. Add to this Skousen’s many non-libertarian / non-Austrian views; your conclusion in your last paragraph sums it up.

  3. Tucker also wrote a rather ludicrous article titled "Ideas + Fun + Commerce = FreedomFest."

    In general he presents a desperately needed voice for positivity amidst a liberty movement wading through a dark fog of negative rights focused condemnation. A blessing is his contribution which jives better with human motivational psychology.

    But the above article strays into stupidity, revealing Tucker to be a little too mindless in his positivity and acceptance. Too much of a good thing.

    1. Tucker follows his orders well. He gets big money to produce this tripe, and he knows exactly what he is doing.