Freedom Fighter— Portraits in Prudence and Courage

The world is a kaleidoscope of newly crystallized conditions clicking into place

Left: Dr. Tom Palmer, Right: Jaycee Johnson
Left: Dr. Tom Palmer, Right: Jaycee Johnson

and, before the eye resolves the design, snaps a new, equally ephemeral design into view. Pattern seekers haunt world news and editorial sites hoping for clarity while others pack their lives with activity hoping the world will right itself. Most humans ignore the dangerous world around them, some feel impotent frustration, others feed fear, hatred, and anger, and a few pick up sticks and set out on voyages of personal understanding. Rarely appearing is a freedom fighter armed with liberal ideas such as freedoms of speech, the press, religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, and international cooperation riding out to offer feasible alternatives to brutality, oppression, and evil. Dr. Tom Palmer[1] provided an Atlas Network Update From the Field on Defending Liberty in Sarasota, Florida on January 7, 2016.

Dr. Palmer addressed the ISIS cult, Putin’s ambitions, and our own stupidity. Opening with the ISIS cult, he pointed out the large ISIS cult footprint of evil and horrific brutality, which he labeled terror porn, and identified the steps being taken to contain their recruitment. The Atlas Network seeks out courageous leaders, helps them start local organizations and trains them on how to be effective advocates of liberty. In the Middle East, Atlas Network supports several such groups of young people engaging in countering ISIS recruiting. Dr. Palmer pointed out that the ISIS cult appeals to the base fantasies of boys unmoderated by stable value systems; sex, violence, and glory. Countering such appeal requires two fronts. First it’s vital they understand that if they join ISIS, their new ISIS friends will eventually turn on them and kill them; the ISIS cult provides ample video footage to prove the point. Second is devaluation through laughter; making fun of the ISIS cult. Anyone who has ever laughed at a teenager in the throes of a fit of passionate anger knows this is an effective ‘turn-off.’  The Silk Road Station is an organization grown with Atlas Network collaboration. “I’m enormously encouraged by Silk Road Radio,” said Tom G. Palmer, Atlas Network’s executive vice president for international programs. “Our Afghan libertarian friends are bold, courageous, intelligent, and diplomatic in promoting the values and the ideas of liberty in their country. I’ve worked with the Afghanistan Economic & Legal Studies Organization for years, and was impressed from the very start by their integrity and their moral strength. Their latest venture, Silk Road Radio, brings hope, knowledge, and freedom to the Afghan people in several languages. Khalid and his team inspire me. It is an honor to work with them.” During the presentation Dr. Palmer reminded us of an old truth, “You cannot kill a good idea with a bullet.”

Dr. Palmer made it crystal clear that defeating the ISIS cult would come from within. A ground assault would play right into the ISIS playbook, and the results would be disastrously brutal. Palmer pointed out that sending soldiers into the arms of an apocryphal ISIS cult that is attempting to recapture an imaginary glorious past by replicating each step of 1000-year-old verbal tribal custom would be insane.

The discussion of the Middle East closed with a look to the future. Dr. Palmer sees hope for those countries that lie along the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa known as the Maghreb: Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. He sees less hope for the Levant, an area that usually includes the area of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Putin appears committed to recovering the remembered and imagined glory of the ‘old days’, and he sees himself as an integral part of that recovered Imperial Russian grandeur. Propaganda is the weapon of choice and to that end, the Russian Times is active worldwide. Dr. Palmer related that any form of media, print or electronic, is all things Putin; Putin shirtless, Putin riding bulls, Putin in the Middle East, etc. According to Dr. Palmer, the only reason the Ukraine is not scorched earth and back under Russia’s wing is that Putin ran low on funds due to falling oil prices. On the positive side of the balance sheet, Georgia, a country swallowed by the Soviet Union and now, returned to sovereignty upon its dissolution, is slowly, sometimes hesitatingly, edging toward economic success based on liberal values.

‘Our own stupidity’ focuses on aspects of foreign aid that tend to promote counterproductive behaviors inconsistent with founding principles. Dr. Palmer related the story of a friend, Kakha, who was appointed to a high ranking ministerial post in a country trying to rebuild itself. Kakha’s new post came complete with several hundred government employees. After doing the math, it became clear that six employees could do the job, and Kakha laid off the rest. Kakha was queried by a foreign aid worker about his decision. Had he moved them to other locations or attempted to ease their transition? Kakha responded that he had not. He told them to go home and find a job driving taxis or starting businesses. Kakha was the recipient of a human rights complaint rather than a medal for returning money to citizens’ pockets.

Dr. Palmer declined to be drawn into a political discussion during the question and answer period. He did, however, offer an observation. If centrist Republicans and centrist Democrats with residual math skills sat down and discussed solutions to the U.S.’s challenges, a reasoned path forward could be identified.

Classically one of the four Cardinal virtues, prudence is part and parcel of that little voice directing us along the right course in shifting circumstances. Courage is the moral value underwriting the backbone breathing life into prudent choices. Dr. Palmer’s update on Liberty impeded the shifting world affairs kaleidoscope long enough for those present to see the many lights of freedom glow in unexpected parts of a darkened world. His discussion highlighted just how brave and committed the Atlas Network and associated organizations’ freedom fighters must be.

Author’s Note: Our youngest son, Jaycee, attended the Update with me because he is taking a course on Churchill as well as one on C.S. Lewis’s writings focused on The Abolition of Man from Hillsdale College and has completed courses on the Constitution and the principles of Liberty. For many years, Jaycee has seen himself as a soldier protecting the U.S. and people from evildoers. I wanted him to meet a different kind of freedom fighter, one who fights with ideas and hope.   The ploy worked better than I had hoped as Jaycee heard the echoes of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, Churchill, and, his personal favorite, Frédéric Bastiat. Jaycee was enchanted. People in attendance took their time to introduce themselves and talk to him rather than at him. Dr. Palmer took some extra time after the presentation with Jaycee. Our drive home was about three hours of non-stop talk. It continued at the dinner table as he regaled the family with his wondrous discovery. Finally, about 7:00 pm my ears got tired, and we put the discussion on hold until morning.

[1] Dr. Tom G. Palmer is the executive vice president for international programs at Atlas Network and is responsible for establishing operating programs in 14 languages and managing programs for a worldwide network of think tanks. He is also a senior fellow at Cato Institute and director of Cato University. Before joining Cato, he was an H. B. Earhart Fellow at Hertford College, Oxford University, and a vice president of the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. He frequently lectures in North America, Europe, Eurasia, Africa, Latin America, India, China and throughout Asia, as well as the Middle East on political science, public choice, civil society, and the moral, legal, and historical foundations of individual rights. He has published reviews and articles on politics and morality in scholarly journals such as the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Ethics, Critical Review, and Constitutional Political Economy, as well as in publications such as Slate, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Die Welt, Caixing, Al Hayat, the Washington Post, and The Spectator of London. He is the author of Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice (expanded edition 2014), and the editor of The Morality of Capitalism (2011), After the Welfare State (2012), Why Liberty (2013), and Peace, Love & Liberty (2014). Palmer received his B.A. in liberal arts from St. Johns College in Annapolis, Maryland, his M.A. in philosophy from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and his doctorate in politics from Oxford University.

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