Free Speech, Individual Rights, And Education with Greg Lukianoff

TWS 08 | Free Speech


Individual rights is something essential for a genuinely free society, and there are a lot of things that we should never take for granted. Right at the top of the list is free speech. Greg Lukianoff, New York Times best-selling author, and the President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), is a passionate advocate for free speech. His whole appreciation for freedom of speech comes in part from being an immigrant kid living in a neighborhood with a lot of other kids from different parts of the country. Greg talks about his background, the books he’s authored, and the path that took him to the organization he now leads, FIRE.

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Free Speech, Individual Rights, And Education with Greg Lukianoff

TWS 08 | Free Speech

Freedom from Speech

I’m excited to talk with my guest. His name is Greg Lukianoff. He is an attorney and New York Times bestselling author and the President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He’s the author of a number of books including Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, Freedom from Speech and FIRE’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus. FIRE is the acronym for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. He also has a book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. The co-author of that book was Jonathan Haidt. Greg, I’m super excited to have you on. Thanks for taking the time.

Thanks for having me.

Tell us about your background and the path that took you to the organization you now lead, FIRE, and the books you’ve authored.

My father was a Russian refugee who grew up in Yugoslavia. My mother is ethnically from an Irish group in Britain and thinks herself as British. Growing up, my parents had very different ideas of the value compared to the value of truthfulness versus politeness, with my mom having an exaggerated sense of politeness coming from being an Irish girl in Britain. Sometimes you want to be more British than the British. My dad has a Russian sense that you want to be fairly coddling and that’s like as my mother would say, “Politeness is a form of deception,” which it is to be fair. I joke that my earliest memory was Christmas when I was four years old and it’s true. I got a toy that I didn’t like and it was the first time I remember getting a toy that I didn’t like. My mom wanted me to be polite and my dad wanted me to be honest.

I do what any good four-year-old would do, I break out in tears. My oldest sister, Katie, was like, “Poor baby got a toy he didn’t like, starts crying.” I don’t want to have the words for this but the problem here is a societal paradox. I didn’t know how to explain it. I was put in a situation where I couldn’t say what I wanted to say because it was considered wrong, but I had to be honest and I couldn’t do both. Partially my whole appreciation for freedom of speech comes in part from being an immigrant kid and living in a neighborhood with a lot of other first-generation kids or all the kids from different parts of the country. That meant that more or less you had to develop your own rules. The first one is you had to hear people out. You couldn’t impose anybody else’s idea of politeness because nobody’s parents agreed on what politeness meant. It’s essential to how I got excited about this. I went to undergrad at American University where I was a student journalist. That gets you radicalized with regards to freedom of speech.

You’re coming to your office saying, “Can you fire so and so?” It’s like, “No, I can’t fire so and so. What’s your reason?” Watching the wheels turn in people’s heads to become like, “I don’t know why I should censor you or how I could get away with it but give me some time.” I realized how felicitous we were at this whole process. I went to law school and I specialized in First Amendment. I went to Stanford for law school. I took every class that they had on First Amendment and then when I ran out of that, I did six credits on censorship during the Tudor Dynasty. That’s how you know if something is your passion is if you tell people about it and they’re like, “That sounds ridiculous.”

I interned at the ACLU of Northern California and despite all of this experience, when I started at FIRE, when it was only a year and a half old way back in 2001, I was shocked at how easy it was to get in trouble on the modern college campus. What was different back then, and this is the bulk of my career, is that the students were actually the best constituency on campus for freedom of speech. They got it. They love their Dave Chappelle. They got offensive comedians. They got even the hard but bonus credit questions when it comes to First Amendment stuff in a way that some professors did, but not all. In a way that a lot of administrators get. I sometimes explain my career as being a chunk of pretty much 2001 to 2013 being when I was almost exclusively dealing with administrators, silencing people.

It’s interesting to see how influences shaped your view of the world, personality, what you think and what you come to believe. I would assume in law school specifically, how did you get to the point where you understood individual rights? Maybe the connection it had to education to the level where you pursued making this your career, especially with FIRE.

I’m not sure if I understood it as being anything more than just something essential for a genuinely free society. It’s funny because sometimes people who are not first generation or not immigrants, including my wife, could pick on us. My mother, we call each other on the 4th of July. We wished each other, “Happy 4th of July,” and my wife thought that was cute and silly. This is one thing that immigrant kids get that other people don’t. There’s a lot to like about this country and there are a lot of things that we should never take for granted. Right at the top of the list is free speech. It’s unusual in human history. It’s unusual in the world in general and it is probably one of the great innovations in all of human history, but it’s also extraordinarily fragile. I went in there like a real believer anyway, but I didn’t give the education element that much thought until I was recruited by FIRE back in 2001. When they thought about it, I was like, “I have run into some of this stuff in college.” It was never that terrible.

Certainly, seeing columnists get in trouble when I was an undergrad was definitely pretty common. Stanford was an environment where even at that time it was easy to say the wrong thing because people were almost pulling for you to say the wrong thing. Living in San Francisco, that was my first experience with runaway group think. I lived in DC for six years and I missed the way we argued in DC when I was living out there. It was only when I started FIRE, when I started to realize how bad it was. It didn’t take me very long before I started having cases where they’re consistently cases where you’re saying to yourself, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” The case that we give in the book and I’ve given over and over again, but it’s probably one of FIRE’s most famous cases, is we had a student get in trouble for reading a book in public. The book was called Notre Dame vs. the Klan.

He was trying to educate himself on Klan history. What people to these days don’t know was that they were also anti-Catholic back then. They marched on Notre Dame back in ‘26 or ‘24. There was a great street battle. Students went out and fought them and they won. It’s a joyously anti-Klan book. Not that that it makes it any more or less protected, it just makes it more ironic that he got in trouble. He was found guilty of a racial harassment at a public school in Indiana because it made two employees allegedly uncomfortable with the title of the book and the picture of the rally on the cover. For a long time, nobody was paying attention to these kinds of cases.

I spent a lot of my career banging on this drum saying, “It’s much worse than you think.” That was my first book, Unlearning Liberty. It was more or less saying, “This is worse than you think.” That being said, in 2012 it seemed like things were on a positive trajectory. Things were getting better. The cases weren’t quite as ridiculous, which is one way to tell how good or bad your speech environment is. Somehow right around 2013, 2014, right after my book came out, we started seeing seemingly overnight this sudden push among the students to demand that speakers be disinvited. Not just, “I don’t want to hear this person and I’m going to protest outside their speech,” but, “I don’t want them setting foot on my campus.”

That’s when you start hearing about things like trigger warning requests and micro aggression policies. That’s when you start seeing the students taking themselves to the streets to be, in some cases, mob sensors, shouting people down, for example. This was not what I was used to and that seemingly happened very quickly. I wrote a short book and it’s one of the better things I’ve written in 2014 when this was all brand new to me called Freedom from Speech. It’s only about 9,000 words, but it’s me just explaining how I think freedom of speech is endangered by progress itself. What I mean by that is you as a society and you as an individual, as you get to have more technology and get to have more options in who you talk to both online and offline and live in communities that better reflect your values, you can physically move to areas that have more like-minded people. This is going to necessarily have a negative effect on freedom of speech because people who are in these echo chambers or people who are in these environments that sounds wonderfully pleasant to be like, “I’m going to live in communities where they reflect my values. I’m going to join internet communities that also reinforced my values.”

Politeness is a form of deception. Click To Tweet

There’s a problem with that. The social science is very clear that when you just talk to people with whom you agree politically, for example, you tend to become much more radicalized in the position of the group. If only out of weight of argument that you know for your side and not for the other. I made the argument in Freedom from Speech that this is going to get worse and it’s going to be a condition of wealth and of progress. That was Freedom from Speech. Then in 2015, I had the pleasure of writing with my then very new friend, Jonathan Haidt. He is a famous and brilliant social psychologist who wrote two wonderful books, The Happiness Hypothesis, which is about taking a scientific approach to what makes people happy and trying to figure out which does. Short observations like don’t live by the airport and try to limit your commute, those are very robust findings. Then two things that came out very strongly were meditation and CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

That’s why I wanted to talk to Jon back in 2015 about this idea I’ve been thinking. I’m very open about this in the book. It comes from getting very depressed back in 2007. I always had issues with depression in my life, but this was going to the hospital bad, which was the first time I ever had to go to the hospital. What got me out of that, which forever changed my relationship to my own depression, and I always want to be clear, I also took medications. I was criticized by someone saying like, “You don’t talk about medication.” I’m like, “Absolutely, talk to your psychiatrist. Get help. Talk to your doctor right away.”

CBT for the long-term was the thing that helped me. CBT is more or less learning some of the crazy exaggerations everybody’s brain makes like when you go on a date and it doesn’t go well and you’re like, “I’m going to die alone.” That’s a cognitive distortion because from this, you don’t know you’re going to die alone. This is just a crazy exaggeration that most people make. These include things like binary thinking: everything’s going to be all good or all bad, fortune telling. This idea of, “I’m going to die alone, catastrophizing. If I get a C on this paper, I’ll never get into Princeton or whatever.” These are all ideas that you have to learn to talk back to and it takes a lot of practice. If you get yourself in the habit of talking back to the sad and crazy and depressed voices in your head, they start having a lot less power over you. I still got depressed sometimes, but I now can fight back in a way that I never could before.

You’re talking about the spectrum of emotions or the spectrum of feelings. It’s interesting and I think this is what you’re alluding to but experiencing that is instrumental to growth and learning. You talked a lot about in the book safety-ism and protectionism. Those types of experiences, when there’s so much pressure there that you need to figure things out. It teaches you so much. At the same time, as you’ve been speaking, it’s one of those natural tendencies that we have to want to be saved. It’s in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

You want safety and people find safety in a lot of different things. When there’s a group of people that believe the way that they believe, and think the way that they think, they may come with thoughts and align with people with the same thoughts. Then when it’s there, it becomes so strong because the numbers or the collective is magnified, where something that’s different, it’s difficult to cope with that. At the same time, are you making the point that those difficulties, the experience of other point of views or things that are disruptive are in fact healthy and beneficial?

My thinking on education overall is a lot of education is learning to overcome some of our worse nature. Some of it is our desire for comfort, our desire for affirmation. It can come up with some serious negative side effects. Even my horrifying depression, after the fact, I realized that I was anxious about taking the job as President. I was formerly the Legal Director of FIRE and I loved that job. It was a lawyer’s dream come true to be that. I was very anxious about becoming President, partially because I didn’t know if I could take it. You’re in the culture world all the time. It’s nasty and I was afraid I might have a breakdown. Then in 2007 I had one and then I got over it. I felt that fear of what I was capable of had put a cap on the possibilities for my entire life. That was lifted, which I paid a horrible price for. It was really difficult. At the end, it’s hard for me not to see that as something that I had to eventually work through or spend the rest of my life, always a little bit afraid of my own fragility.

Do you associate that as the driving force behind why there are issues on college campuses, why you have helicopter parents is just irrational sense of fear?

TWS 08 | Free Speech

Free Speech: There are a lot of things that we should never take for granted. Right at the top of the list is free speech.


An exaggerated sense of fear, which is some are irrational at least. I’ll explain a little bit more about how the thought process happens. I’m working on college campuses trying to overcome my own depression and anxiety by teaching myself, don’t over generalize, don’t catastrophize, don’t personalize, don’t do all of these things that we talk about in the book. We have a list of cognitive distortions in the book that are super helpful. I was looking at what was going on a campus being like, it seems like administrators are constantly telling students, “You should catastrophize and personalize. You should do all these things.” I’m like, “This is going to make people depressed and anxious.” At the time I was saying to myself also, “Thank goodness students aren’t buying it.”

They’re not listening to it and so far it doesn’t seem to be having much effect on them. Then in 2013, 2014, it got a lot worse. It’s not unheard of for students to come out against freedom of speech. This happened in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s as well. That was the first-grade age of political correctness, where most of us remember that term from. At the time they were mostly talking about things like bigotry and racism and all this stuff. That was certainly still part of the argument in 2013, 2014, but the emphasis was very much on psychology. That this person, if they come onto campus, it’s not just that I’ll hate the fact that they’re there but I, or more importantly my fellow students, will find it psychologically harmful in a real medical sense for that person to be on campus.

I’m a psychology hobbyist to be like, “That doesn’t sound right. I should definitely get a sanity check from my friend, Jonathan Haidt about this.” I told them this idea about how it seems like we’re teaching cognitive distortions. To my delight, he said, “Let’s write an article about it.” I’m like, “Sure, I’d love to write an article with you.” This is back in 2014, right around the time that I was publishing Freedom from Speech. We published an article in The Atlantic called The Coddling of the American Mind. I didn’t love the title because it sounded insulting to students that I was trying to reach, but to give you a sense of how it was probably the right title to go with, my preferred title was Arguing Towards Misery which everybody we hear, it’s like, “That is boring.” We talk about micro aggressions. We talk about trigger warnings and about how this seems to be teaching students not to get over there if it hurts, not to confront ideas that make them uncomfortable.

We’re giving them a whole battery of things, which we said that’s a formula for making people more depressed and more anxious than they already are. We published the article, expecting to be beheaded because we were saying stuff that if you said on a campus would probably at least get you called to an office somewhere. We said it in The Atlantic and instead the response was shockingly positive. There was one person who wrote an article saying, “Her brother had killed himself several years ago and she was in a classroom where nobody knew that.” The story included someone jumping off of a building, which is where her brother committed suicide. It’s horrible. She said, “It was also the first time that anybody treated me not with kid gloves. Nobody stared at me.” Nobody censored it and it was the first time she felt normal in years.

I know that feeling when you’re like, “Please don’t treat me different. I need to just feel normal.” Some of those outpourings meant a lot to me. Jon and I were like, for a while there was a second most read cover story in the history of the Atlantic. We felt like we’d done our jobs and as I jokingly say, “We curate the whole problem.” We thought we were done with it. We thought we’d met our argument and it would go back to our other work. Unfortunately, everything got worse on the campus. We decided to write a book about it to go deeper most importantly under this question, what was so different about the entering class in 2013, 2014? What made this discontinuity so stark?

What was that epicenter? What was that ground zero of why that caused?

Freedom of speech is endangered by progress itself. Click To Tweet

The whole book is dedicated trying to figure that out. The thing that made it certain that we had to do this research was because we had already agreed to do the book, but early on we started getting the data. At the time when we wrote the article in 2015, there unsurprisingly wasn’t a tremendous amount of data what the class of 2014 looked like, because it wasn’t ready yet. We started getting the data on the psychological profile of the incoming class of 2013, 2014 and the incoming class of 2015 and all the way up to 2016, and it was terrifying. You’re talking about self-reports of anxiety and depression tripling in some cases. Sometimes people are like, “This just means they’re more comfortable with it.” Also people being seen for anxiety and depression going way up. People say, “That just means that we’re responding to it more often.” I’m like, “Those are two big pieces of data right there that you’re dismissing.” The one that is undismissable though that’s not something that can be changed by definition is the saddest one: hospital admissions for self-harm and suicide.

We’re talking about if you look at the trajectory for young women from 2008 to 2016, 2017, 2018, the suicide rate doubled. Overall, if you take the entire first decade of this century and compare them to the last couple of years, it’s up around 70% for girls. The mental health crisis has been hitting boys less severely. We have theories about why that is in the book. The whole book is dedicated to figuring out how this happened. Definitely, when we dug into it, we left with a strong belief that social media was making a lot of existing problems much worse. Social media accelerated all sorts of things. It also accelerated polarization, which is another thread that we talk about as having been a contributing factor to making feel like there are either people who agree with me or evil people more or less.

When it came to the anxiety and depression, the correlation was definitely there. That extensive social media use and depression and anxiety were pretty well-correlated. Why this generation? When you work backwards, figuring out what would have made this class different. They were probably the first class heading school that were on social media with a phone in their pocket as much as they want it to be. They came of age at unfortunately the right time. What people are skeptical about, for example, why does it hit girls harder, it’s like if you have sisters. Imagine the worst aspects of junior high school, but then imagine them 24 hours a day.

I have two daughters in middle school.

If you can keep them off social media for a little while. As we dug more into it, there are even some researches indicating that the lack of deep sleep from being on your phone all the time might be a contributing factor as well. That’s one of the reasons why I say 24 hours, because that’s a nasty environment. When people are in these social media bubbles, they’re even worse about it because there’s none of that face-to-face element. They’ve got a cheering section more or less behind them. The people who agree with you become much more salient in your social media life than they would. Even if you’re in a room being nasty to someone, there’s one person who’s like, “You’re being jerks.” That’s enough oftentimes to check that behavior.

On social media, the dynamic can be much nastier. We definitely think that when it comes to the genuine increase in mood disorders, social media plays a big role. We think that made the polarization part of it worse. We also talk about new ideas about social justice becoming much more popular. We talk about intersectionality in the book. Intersectionality is a concept that we’re very clear on. We think there’s a lot of validity to it. In order to understand someone’s identity, you can’t just take the broad category. The person who first proposed this was more or less saying there are issues faced by black people and there are issues faced by women. It’s not quite right to think that the same issues would be faced by the combination of black and women.

That can be an entirely different category of problem or at least a very different nature of a problem. Jon and I both say we think she’s entirely right. The way intersectionality has been interpreted on campus is something that we call common enemy identity politics versus common humanity identity politics. We’re very in favor of common humanity identity politics. This is like in the great speeches of MLK. He comes to this over and over again where he’s not saying that we’re enemies. He’s saying that you should understand us as your brothers and sisters and that we deserve the same dignity and rights that all of you have enjoyed and our founding fathers said, “We, the people enjoy this.” It’s incredibly morally compelling. It’s the approach that was eventually very successful in the gay rights movement and the women’s right movement as well. Just saying, “Calling us out is double standards,” and saying, “We deserve this too.” That’s very compelling and it broadens the definition of your society.

TWS 08 | Free Speech

Free Speech: People who believe in their intersectionality should be the most critical of people who just use it to get out of arguments that they don’t like.


There’s something morally satisfying about it. Common enemy identity politics is more of what you’ll see on social media these days. When you see people talking about different intersections of privilege, to a large degree, they’re engaging in that. Then people are like, “You’re saying privilege doesn’t exist.” I’m like, “No, I’m not saying privilege doesn’t exist.” If your argument is effectively if you check off any of these boxes, I don’t have to listen to you. I have a quick rhetorical out of an argument with you. Unfortunately, that’s going to get abused and I haven’t. Sometimes I think people who believe in their intersectionality should be the most critical of people who just use it to get out of arguments that they don’t like.

If you follow the intersectionality, like the privilege theory down the rabbit hole, you realize pretty quickly that given all the tools that have come out of it, you can dismiss the opinions of 100% of the entire population of the species. That’s a very tempting argument thing to use rhetorically. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything to bring people together. It doesn’t do anything to make people feel happier about themselves or anything else. The other thing when I tried to explain what’s depressing about this ideology is because as it’s currently interpreted, it means that practically all of us, not us too but, most people on campus are both oppressed and oppressor. White men are merely oppressors, unfortunately. Almost everybody else. It is some combination of the two and it’s treated as if it is just a fact of nature and there’s nothing you can do to change it and it’s going to be this way forever.

It’s a fascinating topic and the relevance is clearly there with college campuses, but it’s everywhere. It’s throughout society. I read the acronym of FIRE, which the individual rights are big, that’s the meat in the middle. I can’t help but think that it’s the understanding of what the collective and a group is in a society, in a class versus an individual. It’s the mesh of that and the misunderstanding or just not the right view of what an individual is and what their rights are and then what a group is and what their rights are. I’ve at least tried to talk to my kids and my girls because they’re dealing with it daily now. I look at them wanting to fit in, them wanting to be part of a group.

They want to be liked and they find identity in that. However, there’s so much weight there as opposed to the actual individual they are, which is unique to them and celebrating that. It’s almost this pull between the two desires, the two driving forces, wanting to be part of a group but also recognizing that you are an individual. I think that’s where social media has been amazing, but it’s also been very destructive. Maybe the common theme is the lack of understanding when it comes down to what an individual is, what their rights are, what a group is and what their rights are. Are you following that? Does that have relevance to how you’ve written about these things and potentially with some of the solutions are?

One of the reasons why we have individual rights in our name is not just because freedom of speech and due process are our individual rights. When Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate were thinking about these issues going back to the 1980s and ‘90s, there was a sense that individual rights was a dirty word almost because more of the idea is this group rights idea, that having a better concept of group rights would somehow set us free or make us more progressive or something like that. The thing I was trying to explain is that individual rights protect group rights. If you have the right to decide what group you can join is entirely within your rights to decide. The primary way you evaluate yourself is by your membership in whatever particular group.

It has to be left up to the individual to also say, “I prefer not to make the dominant part of my self-identification to be my race or my economic background or any of this stuff.” Someone who’s free to identify themselves more as a Mormon for example or for that matter as an Atheist. The problem with group rights is it takes that freedom away from individuals and treats them like automatons. More or less like, “Here’s your leader. Good luck with that.” It makes it very hard to be a dissenter. If you look at the way we argue on campus, take a contrarian like Glenn Loury at Brown University. He’s a black professor who a lot of times will be the one leading the charge against silly expressions of political correctness.

For that, he gets treated with a lot of cases like some trader. Now he’s old enough that he just doesn’t care anymore, which is one of the nice things about getting older. It is interesting because it speaks to this idea. I haven’t written about this yet, but I call this the perfect rhetorical fortress. If you look at all of the things that colleges have excelled at from the 1980s on, it’s using a lot of IQ power to figure out a series of defenses that mean you never have to have an argument with somebody ever again or at least never have to listen to someone that you disagree with. It was simple enough when I was in school, if you could dub someone conservative, you didn’t have to listen to them anymore. That was even back in the ‘90s and that’s surely primitive and silly, but it was weird. I hate to say it was even effective on me in some cases and I’m not ashamed of that. As you go on, you start seeing the privilege ideology does allow you to dismiss at least 99% of the entire population of the planet, if not more.

A lot of education is learning to overcome some of our worse nature. Click To Tweet

Then you add things like class and economic privilege and Conor Friedersdorf wrote about this, he calls them The Idioms of Non-Argument, assuming bad motives. Congratulations, you have multiple defenses that allow you to dismiss without addressing the substance of their argument of every single person you ever meet that you disagree with. The wonderful trick is you don’t have to use that for anybody you agree with. It could be the whitest richest person in the entire world, but you don’t have to dismiss them and you wouldn’t probably want to if you 100% agree with them. This is a strong reminder that when people had all these rules about argumentation, about trying to address the substance of someone’s argument, that’s in the face of our natural inclination to find some other dodge, some other way to get out of it. That doesn’t mean I have to have this unpleasant experience of an argument.

That’s the biggest opportunity for growth. I’ve had hundreds of employees over the years and I’ve had tons of hardships and meltdowns years ago. A lot of what we’re talking about, I’ve thought through a lot and discovered certain things here and there, but we have a saying now which has become one of our values, which is “It doesn’t matter who’s right, it’s understanding what’s right and the discovery of what’s right oftentimes comes about through facing the fear of being wrong.” There’s such a tremendous fear there because the people relate being wrong from the perspective of somebody else somehow it equates to something wrong with you and it’s not true. That’s where I look at it.

It’s the opportunity to grow and because of society, that was a huge point that you made, which is society is changing daily. The groups are getting stronger and stronger because the sense of uncertainty is strengthening. At the same time, I think uncertainty is so beautiful because of how it lets a person make tremendous progress, groups to make progress. We have to face that fear of being wrong because everybody has that. That’s just the nature of life and humanities. We have quirks and nuances and things were not good at, but we have things we’re great at. That’s where the convergence of different personalities and strengths in individuals allows for incredible discovery. It dates back to the wars that existed since the beginning of time, which is this group versus this group.

I look at college and the education that past the point where a child is at their parents’ home and have a sense of safety and stability there. This is an environment where bodies are changing, minds are changing, they’re maturing. It could be an environment in which our future and the future of our society can be amazing and incredible. At the same time, I look at this clamp down on, it doesn’t matter what’s right. It’s, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It’s been faced in history for how many hundreds of years and it hasn’t led to anything great. It’s only when those difficult things to talk about and they can only be talked about in the environment where people are okay with being wrong and want to discover what’s right. Right is where progress is made.

TWS 08 | Free Speech

Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought

There’s this great book by Jonathan Rauch called Kindly Inquisitors that he wrote. Actually, Penn Jillette is a big fan of it. He did the audio book for the twentieth anniversary of Kindly Inquisitors a little while back. It’s all about something that when I first met with people, I have to explain this. It’s most of human history is what Rauch calls fundamentalist. He doesn’t mean that in a religious sense. He means that authority and truth come from the top down, whether from your chief or your oligarchs or your theocratic or pharaoh. That’s the way figuring out truth works. That’s most of human history. It’s a radical idea to start being like, “I am going to stop burning heretics. I’m going to stop making a loud mouse drink hemlock. I’m going to stop crucifying the people who say ideas that bother me.” All of these we have done to either dissenters or weirdos, burning them at the stake, beheading them, all of these things. We’ll weight the dissenter and ages past, not only will I tolerate that person, I’m going to listen to them.

It’s crazy and it’s a very hard social order to maintain. It doesn’t come naturally to us. With time, this approach has real advantages. It does undermine that comfortable certainty, I’ve talked about this in terms of Dostoyevsky, that I feel one of the messages throughout Dostoyevsky’s book is great human evil comes out of the desire to explain the meaning of life in ten words or less. Having that ideology, having that theory that you can always come back to, that frees you of the duty to think is very tempting, but there’s great evil there. Freedom of speech, hearing people you disagree with, none of this comes very naturally. Unfortunately, I feel like some institutions on campus are pushing us towards our more negative instincts on this that listen to the people you already agree with. In the book we have, people know about the Milo riots at Berkeley. I understand people not liking Milo Yiannopoulos. I’m not the biggest fan myself but it was an absolutely out of control riot in which there are people who were very badly hurt.

If you watch the videos of them being assaulted, you were like, “I can’t believe those people survived.” Being hit across the head with a twenty-foot flagpole. It was terrifying. We also talk about the Evergreen State University case involving Bret Weinstein. We got Pamela Paresky who is our chief researcher on this, went out and did some of the interviews on that. It’s much worse than I thought. Even sad incidents where a very respected young philosophy professor wrote a piece talking about the ideas of Rachel Dolezal, was the one who convinced everybody that she was black when she was actually a white woman and she became a President of local NAACP and worked for a university.

A professor wrote about this saying, “If we think that gender is more fluid and it’s up to you to decide what your gender identity is, why don’t we apply this to racial identity?” It was done in a very academic way and done in a very thoughtful way. We liken it to a witch hunt that it was a relatively small transgression and suddenly they’re demanding that the magazine withdraw the article, which is unusual. They’re recommending this person to be fired, this Rebecca Tuvel. What’s even more messed up about it was that some of the professors who had signed these circulated petitions saying, “Down with Professor Tuvel,” would contact her independently and say, “I’m sorry what’s happening to you.” That’s the dynamic of when a mob lost its mind. It’s like, “I couldn’t disagree with the mob.”

The mob is an individual. Here’s the individual apologizing. You can write volumes of books on all of these because as much as it applies to education, it applies to politics, the economy and business. One thing I’ve been thinking as you’ve been talking and making these points is the purpose of college is X. People go in with the expectations of these are the results I want to get by finishing college, which is getting a job, having a profession, figuring out what I want to do, but that’s the thing. It’s at the corporate world. With me, we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t look at necessarily colleges as a good thing sometimes.

We look at where they went to college and then their personality and how they fit within culture. If you have mob mentality or mob theory, it’s not good for a company. It could be in a sense if values are aligned. Most companies want creativity, they want strengths. They’d look at being able to combine multiple people with different perspectives and different backgrounds in order to accomplish a common end. If you reared with this mob rule, it’s difficult to fit into a company and it’s going to hurt going to certain colleges in a sense if you think about it.

Unfortunately, we’ve come to a very similar conclusion. I want to say this. I want to be very clear about this. I went to American University as a scholarship student. It was a school that I always felt some hostility towards it because they kept on chipping away at my scholarships even though I had very good grades and I’ll never forgive them for that. It definitely was a place that was less dogmatic than Stanford, where I went to law school. I always want to be clear, I received a world class education there. It was great. They were smart and interesting people, but now I do wonder, particularly for some of these elite colleges. I’ve said this flat out in some cases. We’ve had great luck hiring people from University of Indiana, from a lot of the big high-quality state schools.

I think that some of this dysfunctional ideology is less present there. A lot of these people don’t want to come forward, but I’ve talked to people who work for cause organizations like big legal representation organizations that do a good job of helping homeless people when they’re working on the side of the angels and all sorts of stuff. They’ll say candidly that they’ve been paralyzed by some of the expectations from the younger employees, from some of the elite schools because they’ve gotten so used to this very inward looking way of arguing that more or less assumes all of your allies are trying to oppress you. That’s not functional. If you end up having schools that are producing employees who are not able to look beyond their own personal drama that actually deliver to the greater good of what the company’s trying to do, it’s poison.

I know from personal experience when you were trying to run a professional shop, one disruptive person and particular if you don’t trust that person. That’s something that I’ve said to my employees a million times. I’m like, “We try to be very good to our employees. We try to find the people and keep them, but if I can’t trust you, you’ll be fired in a heartbeat.” It scares people first of all, but I’m talking about like, “Don’t lie to me. Don’t try to pull a fast one, because if I see that in your character, that’s not someone I ever want to work with again.” I’ve given two pieces of advice for people running businesses, be careful hiring younger people from some of these elite colleges. Also, my stock tip is if you can invest in human resources organizations, do. They’re going to have a lot of work in the next five to ten years.

When it comes to the genuine increase in mood disorders, social media plays a big role. Click To Tweet

There’s a segment, Simon Sinek is a big one, for the personal development space. It’s focusing on all of this. That’s where I’ve learned a ton because it’s like trying to work with somebody who doesn’t want to be wrong. They can’t be wrong. They are afraid of being wrong. It’s the worst thing in the world. There’s no progress that’s made, because justifications are in everything that doesn’t necessarily go as planned. It’s one of those things where I have kids and I understand the nature of coddling. I think about it all the time. I’m like, “I love these kids.”

I have a one-year-old and a three-year-old and I always say this. I want to be very clear. I’m not saying not coddling your kids is easy. It’s hard because that’s all you want to do. I just want to hug my sons and make sure that nobody ever makes them cry.

If you think about some harm coming to them, it’s like you want to break down walls.

There was a great book by Sara Zaske called Achtung Baby, which is about how the Germans are doing a better job of raising their kids in a free independent environment than we are. Everything’s switched in this respect. The home of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn now has helicopter parenting whereas Germany, the classic or authoritarian culture at least in our imaginations have a strong societal commitment to raising independent and self-reliant kids. One thing that I thought was so important about that book though is it’s very easy to dismiss some of these cultural norms as just being a peculiarity of that culture.

That’s why it’s so great that Sara Zaske is the author of it, put in an interview with one of the German parents where they were like, “No, you don’t understand, this is very hard for us.” I want to run up and hug my kids and make sure that they don’t go off to the overnight slumber camp too early. They know it’s good for them and you have to value it as a society. You can do such great harm if you don’t teach children to think for themselves, to be independent and to be at least to some degree self-reliant. Arm them right down to their locus of control. Locus of control is a psychological idea. It’s very common sense. It’s like if you feel you have no control over your own life, it’s a great way and it’s a great formula for making people depressed and anxious.

This is the one reason why I don’t particularly love the title Coddling is because sometimes it gives you the idea of this spoiled pampered kid. When I think about a lot of these kids who were going to the elite colleges, they work very hard and they’ve been working very hard since they were very young. They’ve been scheduled from 6:00 in the morning, 10:00 at night for a lot of their childhoods. I think of the more very finely designed rocket that only knows how to do one thing, but then they show up on campus. We did a lot of interviews with Julie Lythcott-Haims who wrote this great book called How to Raise an Adult, which came out of her dealing with students who are incoming to Stanford, freshmen incoming. These sad scenes of this brilliant kid who’s constantly on the phone with their parents, asking them what to do and they don’t know how to do their laundry. They don’t know how to cook for themselves and all of these little things. They’re what make you feel like you can live your life on your own and be successful. They’re essential. They’re not little things.

No, they’re not. It creates a sense of confidence, a sense of certainty. There’s this idea of dependence and independence. We can talk about that for eons because that dates back to the beginning of time too. There are certain principles associated with it, but they absolutely apply to rearing kids. That comes down to what’s the result that you’re looking for. I can see how wanting to coddle, that desire, it’s the same desire as understanding, getting a child from this idea of dependence and independence. It’s the same desire. You want what’s best for you child, but it comes down to the same thing we’ve been talking about, which is they’re going to be independent at some point. There are ways in which you can create the environment so that they can experience some adversity. They can experience tension and pressure and learn from it. You can’t teach that. There are certain things that just have to be experienced in order to learn. There’s no app for it. You can’t go into YouTube and experience it.

TWS 08 | Free Speech

Free Speech: If you end up having schools that are producing employees who are not able to look beyond their own personal drama and deliver to the greater good of the company, it’s poison.


Maybe VR, maybe you could experience it that way, but my point is there’s nothing that can replace that, which you’re figuring things out and understanding other perspectives and failing. This goes to Peter Gray, we’re talking about his Free to Learn where failure is a concoction of, in a sense, the school system because you look at failure and it’s like not doing something right is just, “I’m going to do it better next time.” It’s part of the process. Whereas failure is like “We’re done. I’m dumb and I can’t learn anything.” I look at the experience I’ve had in life and in business and with kids. I think there are principles that are old as time and you reference a lot of them in the book and they date back to Aristotle. They date back to Socrates.

These ideas that have existed and they apply just as much now as they did then. Sometimes these types of events were schools fail. They’re failing because they’re loading kids with debt. They should be more pissed at that. Instead of being pissed off at opposing points of views, they should be pissed off all the money they’re getting charged that they’ve got to payback one day. It’s the idea that it’s not sustainable. There’s something that’s going to grow and get worse and blow up. Sometimes those are the events. They like people to step back and be like, “That didn’t work. Let’s now learn from it and move on.”

I spend a lot of time thinking about how we can fix higher education because there are parts of it that I truly love. Practically every book I read or at least a big chunk of them are written by university professors who are talking about what they’ve been working on their whole lives. I’m very aware of the special role and a very positive role that higher education has. I also spend a lot of time thinking about, surely we can figure out less expensive, higher yield, better ways. Also, my being an employer at FIRE, we have about 50 people working for us at this point, has colored my view of all of this stuff. Trying to figure out what you want in an employee.

Also, I’m a civic guy. I’m also like, “What do we also want as citizens?” I think if you broke it down, calculus is fun. It’s an interesting intellectual puzzle. I’d take someone who has a solid grounding in statistics or has some amount of numeracy, they know roughly what population sizes look like and that stuff. That’s the kind of stuff you want people to know. We’re not doing a very good job of delivering any of this. One of the reasons why there is this disproportionate favoritism for the elite colleges is because the elite colleges get to be in the position of finding kids who are already bright and hard working. Then all they have to do is not ruin them by four years.

Some would argue that they probably do their best job at it or they can improve their thinking. A lot of times they’re going for hard science degree. Surely there’s got to be a better way. It’s not as if we’re going to get rid of higher education or that I even want to, but I think a lot of the worst excesses everything from costs to dysfunctionality would be addressed if people could finally start figuring out breaking the riddle of what would be a good competitive model for this. We all remember when Apple finally became a real threat to IBM’s dominance that suddenly magically all of our computers got a lot better. If there was something that was enough to make the academy anxious, we would see a lot of these problems get fixed quickly.

We should probably end with this. I want to talk about FIRE and how people can get involved. That’s a great example. That’s what competition often reads. There are signs of that. You have a lot of online like ASU, which is known as a very reputable school system as online this, online that. There are things that are going to be disrupting, but the tidal wave of kids not being able to pay back their student loans, that right there is going to be one of those catalysts. There are so much pressure and so much negativity that pushes the up and coming generations to realize that, “I’m not paying $150,000 for school. I’m going to go this route.” Hopefully, that manifests soon because it’s still getting more out of control.

The problem with group rights is it takes that freedom away from individuals and treats them like automatons. Click To Tweet

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. You can find out more about us at We’re celebrating our twentieth anniversary. We’re doing a big event in New York City. We defend free speech on college campuses, all across the political spectrum. If you get in trouble on a college campus, we defend you. One thing that is very unique about FIRE and I do believe that things can be very unique no matter what grammar people say, is that we have people who vote for different people all across the spectrum. We practice what we preach and we have an office in which Republicans and Democrats and Green Party and Christians, Jewish people, Muslim people and Atheists all work together for common cause. We came out with our Ten Worst Schools for Free Speech list.

TWS 08 | Free Speech

Free Speech: A lot of the worst excesses would be addressed if people could finally start figuring out breaking the riddle of what would be a good competitive model for this.


It always surprises people what ends up getting on there, because some of the cases are political correctness. People now understand that that’s relatively common. There are also cases where like at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It’s like, “Could you please stop criticizing the administration? We don’t like this very much.” We see those stories all the time. If you have kids that are going to college, we provide Guides to Due Process and Fair Procedure that every student should read before they go on. It’s what to do if you find yourself in front of one of these disciplinary tribunals. We also have a Guide to Freedom of Speech that you can use, and if worst comes to worst and you get in trouble on campus, we’re very successful in getting students and professors who get in trouble out of trouble.

We’ll make sure to get those out on our social media so we can increase the awareness of what you guys are doing to impact what seems to be the ominous at this point.

Thank you. It was a real pleasure talking to you.

It was an awesome conversation. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

It was fun chatting with you. Take care.

Important Links:

About Greg Lukianoff

TWS 08 | Free Speech

Greg Lukianoff is an attorney, New York Times best-selling author, and the President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). He is the author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, Freedom From Speech, and FIRE’s Guide to Free Speech on Campus. Most recently, he co-authored The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure with Jonathan Haidt. This New York Times best-seller expands on their September 2015 Atlantic cover story of the same name. Greg is also an Executive Producer of Can We Take a Joke?, a feature-length documentary that explores the collision between comedy, censorship, and outrage culture, both on and off campus.

Greg has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and numerous other publications. He frequently appears on TV shows and radio programs, including the CBS Evening News, The Today Show, and NPR’s Morning Edition. In 2008, he became the first-ever recipient of the Playboy Foundation’s Freedom of Expression Award, and he has testified before both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives about free speech issues on America’s college campuses.


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Capitalism And The Endless Quest For Freedom with Lawrence Reed

TWS 5 | Capitalism And Freedom


Alongside our basic need for shelter, food, and clothing, a person’s yearning for freedom and liberty has always been present no matter what era and time. Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education, talks about freedom and capitalism. He believes that each individual that comes into this world has the right to do anything that’s peaceful. He recounts what brought him to this quest and perspective which was the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and explains the philosophy of capitalism which he believes is the economic component of a free society. He also relates the importance of understanding freedom on different aspects of life and how everyone will benefit from it.

Listen to the podcast here:

Capitalism And The Endless Quest For Freedom with Lawrence Reed

You’re going to love my guest. One of the most brilliant minds out there in relation to freedom and liberty. He is the President of the Foundation for Economic Education and he is also the author of bestselling books. Those include Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism. He also has authored a number of pamphlets including the Great Myths of the Great Depression and his Real Heroes. My guest is Lawrence Reed. Larry, it’s great to have you on. Thank you so much for taking the time.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

You’re an incredible wealth of knowledge. I want to dive straight into a description. How you would describe to somebody your philosophical views of life and business, which is part of life too.

I’ve always been a little bit hesitant to assign a label because labels often are shorthand for things that may or may not be true. People jump to conclusions. I always try to stress to people that you should judge another person’s views by the value of their content, not by some label you or others may ascribe to them. If I had to put a label on my philosophy, I would be comfortable with classical liberal, that means liberal in the 19th-century sense or in the sense that Europeans use the term even now. I would also be comfortable with the term libertarian. The bottom line is that I believe that each individual comes into this world with the right to do anything that’s peaceful. By peaceful I mean as long as you do no harm to another, as long as you respect the life and the property and the contracts and the choices and the decisions of your fellow man, you commit no fraud or force or violence or deception, then the burden should be on those who think in some way you should be restricted. I think you then as a peaceful person who has the right to live your life as you see fit.

We’re going to get into what the commonly held description is of how life should be for the collective good. Before that, I would be intrigued to know what helped bring you to this perspective you have that you very eloquently defined.

We can delude ourselves into all kinds of fallacies or we can enlighten ourselves with the truth. Click To Tweet

For me, I can say was my parents because, in my mother’s case, she never had any political or economic or current events viewpoints. She was a very nice lady that had no inkling about these things and I respect her for that. My father had some good instincts. He was a small business owner and so he bristled at the thought that some distant government might tell him how to run his business. He was in some ways hostile to authoritarianism and very respectful of the individual. He planted some good instincts in me. The most jarring early episode in my life that proved to be pivotal in the development of my thinking was the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. I was only fourteen at that time. I had begun to be interested in current affairs and I was watching these people in Czechoslovakia increasingly move toward freedom. A new regime had come into power in the early part of 1968 and they were moving away from hardline communism, even talking about free elections.

I was cheering them on because I instinctively thought this is great. They should be allowed to do these things. Then when the Soviets invaded, I remember watching that on television. I was outraged that for no reason other than to bring people under control, to push them around, to live their lives for them and to use force to get it done, you had these foreign powers invading their country and it moved me. Within days, I went to Pittsburgh on a bus from my home, which was at that time about 30 miles away to participate in a demonstration against the Soviet invasion. It was put on by a youth group that I joined. One of the first things they did with new members was they put them on the mailing list to receive materials from the foundation that I now run. My reading then deepened dramatically. I got into this from an anticommunist angle, but my philosophy has blossomed into a full-blown appreciation for human liberty across the board.

Before we get to that, as you look back on that pivotal experience, how would you define or describe that instinct that was compelling enough that you felt for people that didn’t speak English that lived across the world? They were pursuing freedom and were essentially invaded under the guise of being able to control and make their life better. What was that instinct? How would you describe that?

Probably an anti-authoritarianism that I inherited from my father. I remember in third grade, I would have been eight. He wanted to take me to Florida for a week to visit relatives in February. I was a student in the local public school in Western Pennsylvania and I mentioned to my teacher that we were going to Florida. She said, “He can’t do that. He can’t take you to Florida. I’m going to talk to the principal.” I went home thinking we’re not going to be able to go. I told my dad that and he said, “I’ll take care of it.” Sure enough, when the principal called, I heard my dad’s side of the conversation. He was generally a quiet shy guy, but he put his foot down on many occasions. I recall vividly him saying at one point to the principal on the phone, “He’s my son, we’re going to Florida. Don’t call here again,” and he hung up on him. He was my hero. Skepticism of authority, especially authority that had little more going for other than just guns, have always been with me from the earliest of ages. Then I saw those scenes in Prague in 1968. I know it touched me to see people who were not much older than me, students in 1968 being hosed down by water cannon and being arrested and rolled over with tanks. That deeply touched me.

I look at the degrees there because I would say most people would say that type of behavior and how individual liberties were being violated by the hose spraying. Most people would agree to that, but most people would not agree to the notion of you going to Florida during the winter as essentially the same idea. Where is the disconnect there? There are degrees, but how do you typically address that?

TWS 5 | Capitalism And Freedom

Capitalism And Freedom: You should judge another person’s views by the value of their content, not by some labels.


That’s rather ordinary and automatic for people to think that the two are not in any way connected. The more I came to understand and appreciate liberty, the more I realized that it’s a very precious and unique thing. Not many people in the history of the world have enjoyed it. Most who have had it have sooner or later lost it and not by one fell swoop by some dramatic radical invasion by another country. Most of them lost it by a steady and slow drip, erosion where they say, “In this area of life, we can trust the government to run our affairs.” Later it’s, “Now, we have to do this for us.” It’s the old slippery slope once you begin to abandon things like self-reliance, personal responsibility, and character taking charge of your life and trusting to politicians to do those things for you. The big question that every Socialist need to answer but never does is, “Where you got to draw the line? How are you going to stop that?” What about the next group that comes along and says, “I want something too” or “I need the government to give me this or that.” I became a much more appreciative of the slippery slope that societies have engaged and that have taken them from free societies to tyranny. Often, slowly enough that they didn’t realize it until it was too late.

Maybe talk if you would about when something like that is done where a person is impeded from doing something that they want. I would say, give something to somebody because they’re less fortunate than the other. What does that do to a person?

It means so much more to all concerned when people do good things like giving to those in need from the heart and by choice entirely voluntarily. So much more good is accomplished by that method than by beating it out of them or sending in the tanks if they don’t do it or taxing the life out of them. For the same reason that you don’t take a person to church on a Sunday morning at gunpoint and then pat yourself on the back later and say, “I made him religious.” It probably had the opposite effect. One of the most important observations about humans is that each of us is extraordinarily and completely unique. No two people who have ever lived have been precisely the same. For me, that screams freedom because you can’t be who you are. You can’t be fully human unless you have broad sway, as long as you don’t harm another, if you don’t have broad sway over how your life goes. If somebody else is telling you all those things, you’re not really living your life. Somebody else is living their life through you at the point of the gun. That’s so anti-human nature. It’s unthinkable.

One thing I’ve come to realize is there seems to be at least, I’m not going to speak absolutely, but there seems to be this natural curiosity that we have as human beings. Children have it at incredible levels. The stifling takes place sometimes when that curiosity is interrupted. I would say the interruption can be to the degree of being invaded by Russia, as far as pursuing things that you want to pursue. I would also say from a school perspective where the curriculum is dictated and essentially, I wouldn’t say forced, but highly coerced as far as what you should be studying, what you should be reading, what’s right, what’s wrong from an academic perspective. That’s how I see it. How does that relate to the importance of understanding freedom when it comes to taking the uniqueness of who we are and having the greatest experience that we can in life by pursuing curiosity and pursuing our desires?

You’re exactly right. You’re on to a very important point. Everyone develops in his or her own way at their own speed and interruptions in that through the use of force or dictation by someone outside. Especially if they’re remotely connected to you. It tends to send people down the wrong path. It tends to discourage their lust for knowledge. The most effective teachers are the ones who don’t just open up a kid’s skull and pour in the facts and figures. The most effective teachers are the ones who strike a match in the mind and the heart of a student. To ignite that lust for learning, to get the kids to appreciate the importance of learning and make them want to do it on their own by inspiring them. That’s the most effective way to teach, not to treat a kid as if he’s a robot that needs to be programmed at every turn. That runs counter to all that we know about human nature.

Labels are often our shorthand for things that may or may not be true. Click To Tweet

We could go to a completely different direction talking about academia and grades and what determines that you’re a smarter student. I won’t go there, but I do want to pivot to what we’ve chosen as a theme, which is Capitalism. All of these talking points that we have been discussing so far relate to that in a very peculiar way. Capitalism, to me at least, is a structure that can bring out incredible things from human beings. Maybe as it relates to your role with FEE and the discovery that you made of the principles of liberty and with your specialty in public policy, how do you view or have come to understand what Capitalism is and what its principles are?

Capitalism is the economic component of a free society and that’s pretty important. Nobody should say that economics has everything. Economics is the means by which we solve an awful lot of problems. It’s the means by which we feed and clothe and house people. It’s the means by which people’s lives materially can improve and put them in a position where they can do wonderful things, including helping those less fortunate. One of Capitalism’s greatest virtues of many is that it’s the one system that doesn’t require a mastermind or a central planner. Some guy in an ivory tower somewhere who says, “If I have enough cops that I can send out to tell people what to do, I can play in society.”

Capitalism is what happens when you leave people alone. You don’t have to tell them to do things like trade, invent, create, employ, or build. They do that as long as the incentives are there and they’re free to be themselves. We are naturally a creative being as human beings. That’s one of the greatest shortcomings of every other system. All the others, non-capitalist systems are contrivances. They are Rube Goldberg contraptions. They are individual humans pretending to be what they can’t possibly be and constructing stuff and then imposing it on other people. That is fraught with failure from the word go.

How would you associate that with the previous topics that we were mentioning in the general notion of liberty and specifically to your experience in school and how school dictates and how curiosity is the fire that can be ignited to create some of the most amazing learning? How do you associate that with Capitalism?

Capitalism by its very nature sparks and nurtures. It inflames in a positive way that natural human curiosity. Capitalism basically says, “If you have an idea that you want to try to put in place. You think it will meet a need or somebody will like what you do and give you money for it and therefore you can do better in the process. You’re free to do that, go to town.” It also says you can’t just do these things without regard to the desires of other people or you’ll flop. Capitalism says you can’t put a robot around you and a crown on your head and tell the peasants to cough it up. You have to produce things that they want and need. If you’re good at it, you’ll be rewarded for it. I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t want a system that is aimed at rewarding people who actually meet the needs and desires and wants of other people.

TWS 5 | Capitalism And Freedom

Capitalism And Freedom: Appreciate liberty. Not many people in the history of the world have enjoyed it, and most who have had it have sooner or later lost it.


I would say the statement you just made, a lot of people would say that they don’t deserve that. They have more than they need and therefore they should share that with others. What’s wrong with that argument if it’s for the better good of other people? If somebody figures out a way to create value and be successful based on the value they create for somebody else, because they’re so successful, they have too much and others don’t have enough. Therefore, they don’t need all that. Therefore, they should share with others.

The wealthiest among us who have got that way, not because of any special favors from the government. I’m very much opposed to that when it happens, but because of their efforts, their ingenuity, their investments being at the right place at the right time and meeting the needs of a lot of people, by definition, they got there through a life of service. They’ve created value. In every case, you’ll find the so-called super rich who have accomplished great things like that and had been rewarded for it. What society in effect pays them for having done that is a minuscule fraction of the wealth they’ve added to society. I don’t care that Bill Gates has $70 billion. He created hundreds of trillions of dollars in value that didn’t exist before. The last thing you want to do is to say to such people, “If you get to where you are so successful because you’ve done such a good job at serving others, we’re going to treat you like a villain.” Why would anybody want to do that? Except for some rotten motives like envy and covetousness that never end well.

No, it doesn’t, yet that’s a pervasive feeling that exists in society right now.

I tell people all the time, “For your own mental health, count your blessings. Don’t count the other guy’s. You’ll feel a lot better about life and you won’t be wasting time trying to run somebody else down.”

What came up when you were speaking a moment ago, it was a speech you gave a while ago about the wealth and about Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations. It wasn’t necessarily on The Wealth of Nations which most people define as the title of that book that was highly influential. You went into the actual true title of his second book. Would you maybe discuss that and what is the beginning of the title of the book? What relevance does that have to the actual title that most people subscribed to his book The Wealth of Nations?

If somebody else is telling you to do things, you're not really living your life. Somebody else is living their life through you. Click To Tweet

Most people know something about The Wealth of Nations, but most don’t know that that wasn’t the full title. This was Adam Smith’s second of only two books. The full title was An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. It’s significant to think about that because he didn’t entitle it An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Poverty of Nations. I’m pretty confident if he were here right now and we asked him, “Why didn’t you focus on poverty? That’s on everybody’s mind these days.” He would say, “Everybody knows what causes poverty. It’s what happens when you don’t do anything.” It’s what happens when the government stands in your way so that it penalizes people who create wealth and solve poverty. He was more interested in how do we go from a naturally poor society, which we all have been sooner if you go back far enough. How do you go from being a poor society to a rich one? That’s the problem we need to work out and encourage whatever it is that makes that happen.

Going from a poor society to a wealthy society, what do you say are the causes of that?

I think Adam Smith would say there are several components here. I’m not sure how he might rate their importance, but these are among the ones that he would list as most important. One is you’ve got to leave peaceful, productive people alone. You can’t stand in the way. You can’t vilify them. You can’t swipe their capital, otherwise, they’ll say, “Forget this. Why should I endure the risk and the hassle and the headaches if somebody else is going to take whatever it is I produce?” Don’t stand in the way of productive people like entrepreneurs. He would also say that self-interest is a powerful factor. I know that gets a bad rep in a lot of places. People say, “Self-interest, you mean you’re doing it for yourself. That sounds antisocial.” We all should do whatever we do for altruistic reasons just to help the other guy.

You look around the world and ask yourself, “How much of what actually gets done? How much of what’s produced that we benefit from derives from somebody’s charitable motive just to help somebody they don’t even know?” Not very much. That’s not denigrating the charitable impulse. I give to charities all the time, but I don’t underestimate the enormous benefit and power of self-interest that’s channeled into constructive, positive, wealth-creating directions by entrepreneurs and others in a free society. Think of everything you’re going to eat now. How much of that was produced because you said, “Jose, down there in Venezuela, where’s my coffee?” No, it’s because somebody said, “I can make a few bucks if I meet this need and create a new product and get it to the people who need it.” That’s a constructive and positive force. It’s one of the most powerful things for a higher standard of living, self-interest.

I wasn’t planning of talking about this, but he has his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I haven’t studied this in a long time. I know that you’re more verse here. Would you maybe get into the moralities behind the principles of Capitalism? As I understood in that book and some of the main premises were that there is this natural driving self-interest for our personal well-being. Through that, we figured out ways to exchange with others and not just benefit ourselves but better the whole. Speak about the morality side of Capitalism and how those human tendencies to be self-interested work out in the favor of others.

TWS 5 | Capitalism And Freedom

Capitalism And Freedom: The most effective teachers are the ones who strike a match in the mind and the heart of a student to ignite that lust for learning.


That first book of Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Some Smith scholars argue and I think there’s a foundation for this, that maybe that was the more important of the two books. He laid out some of those moral foundations that later he draws out and shows the economic implications of in The Wealth of Nations. Smith was very curious about what motivates people. In particular, what motivates them to do something for other people instead of exclusively and entirely for themselves? When you look at those such things, you go down the path of realizing that people want to feel fulfilled.

If you talk to most entrepreneurs about what motivates them, you’ll find in fact, very few of them will say, “I just wanted to pile up lots of cash. I want to sit around and play with my pile of gold coins all day long.” No, that’s a byproduct of what they’re doing. What’s most fulfilling to most of them is the very idea of solving problems, interacting peacefully and productively with others. Deriving happiness from making them happy, finding common areas of interest and inventing and creating things that satisfy that lust of their curiosity. Those are far more motivating to people and Smith recognized this. Then the old caricature of the rich capitalists has the desire in one thing, just piling up cash.

That was a couple of hundred years ago, the mid-1700s to the late 1700s. Has human nature changed since then? Are those principles obsolete or do they still apply now?

I think they apply and I can’t see how human nature has changed. Remember, one of the key elements of human nature is that we are creatures of ideas. Our underlying nature may not change and I don’t think it has, but our ideas can change and ideas have real-world impact. We can delude ourselves into all kinds of fallacies or we can enlighten ourselves with the truth and with useful knowledge. At various times in history, people go down one rabbit trail or the other. I don’t think our nature has fundamentally changed, but our understanding of it or understanding of the world is too often colored by things like the political heat of the moment or a fad of the day. Those things don’t ultimately undermine our basic human nature.

That’s awesome. That’s an incredible way to explain it. Let’s end with the notion of failure. When it comes to a capitalistic society, there’s a failure that comes as a result of a person pursuing their curiosity, whether it’s entrepreneurship or business. You look at where the central powers of government have stepped in and thrown their weight around is that failure hurts people, failure is bad. In order to protect the collateral damage of failure, the government has to be involved because they’re the only ones that are going to look out for the best interest of the whole. How do you typically think through that type of logic that people use?

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I don’t know how anybody could look at the way the government operates now and say, “Somehow those guys can make up for our shortcomings.” That’s absurd. Some failures in life are inevitable and unavoidable and actually not necessarily bad. It depends more than anything else on how you react to it and what you learn from it. I don’t think we should look to any entity, Capitalism, Socialism, government, whatever, as the outfit that’s going to prevent failure. What we should be asking ourselves is what kind of system tends to minimize it, localize it, and maximize what we learned from it. That’s what we want. You don’t get that under a centrally planned top-down government-directed system because they fail all the time. They don’t have the internal incentives to ride in to ship to adjust because their concerns are elsewhere.

Their concerns are re-election, getting a bigger budget, not serving you so much as maintaining their own position and power. In Capitalism, when you fail at something because you didn’t control your costs or you didn’t meet a need that was out there, somebody else did it better than you. There’s a mechanism called profit and loss that immediately sends you a pretty powerful signal. It says right off the bat, “You need to get off this horse and get on another one.” That minimizes the waste of resources that redirects human energy. I’m grateful for a system we call Capitalism that tends to minimize failure and to maximize service which every entrepreneur is trying to do.

Failure is one of the most amazing things to attach to as far as opportunities are concerned. Now though, I look at how failure is a bad thing. I’ve had a number of employees and it’s been a very difficult thing over the years to unprogram or reprogram them to look at that making mistakes is a good thing if you handle it the right way. It’s one of the most incredible ways to learn and accelerate that learning. As you’ve spoken in the idea of what the government has done and how they’ve failed, I think most people agree with that, but because their mission is for the betterment of society, it somehow accepts it.

I find it curious right now with the government shut down. I was watching the news. There was a segment on there about how gyms were opening up to federal employees that wanted to go work out. There were food banks that were opening up their doors. There was so much charitable drive to help those that were in need because of the government shutdown and they didn’t have a paycheck. I find it interesting how people perceive government’s doing and how incredibly strong that perspective is. It made me concerned to an extent. How have you looked at what’s going on right now in the current environment and associated that with some of the stuff we’ve been talking about?

Every time I hear someone say, “We have to rely on the government for this to help those people.” I always like to say, “You’re selling yourself short.” What you’re saying is that the politicians are the ones with compassion. The rest of us dummies don’t have that. We somehow have the wisdom to select the right people because they have more compassion than we do, but we don’t have that kind of compassion. I think that is so ridiculous. It’s absurd. It’s childish. We should look around and rejoice and all the good things that people are voluntarily doing to help other people. They’re doing it in spite of the fact that the government is swiping a quarter or more of what they earn. It’s amazing how much charity there is after the government takes its cut. Don’t sell yourself short.

TWS 5 | Capitalism And Freedom

Capitalism And Freedom: Some failure in life is inevitable and unavoidable and actually not necessarily bad. It depends more than anything else on how you react to it and what you learn from it.


This has been amazing. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. This has been incredible. I’ve enjoyed everything you’ve said.

Thank you. You have great questions. You drew it out of me and I sure appreciate that.

It’s one thing that you and I have. I have a similar background where I didn’t have very politically-involved parents. They had strong opinions one way or the other about commerce. They were both teachers. I just had the curiosity about how things work and how people behave. I came across a lot of your material in 2005, 2006. It gave me that same feeling and I didn’t necessarily have the same experience as you did with seeing how a person’s liberty was taken at a larger scale with the Czech Republic and Russia. I start to look at myself and I start to look at what I was taught and what drives me and what drives other people and the environment associated with the healthiest grooming of a human being where they can pursue what they want in happiness and joy. It’s not something that can be dictated or force. It has to be chosen. Oftentimes, people gravitate toward this easy way of doing things. I’m not sure if that’s the purpose of life.

I looked at the incredible experience I’ve had learning from you and learning from others who understand the principles of liberty at such a deep level and how much of an impact it would have on the average individual. Let alone the society, but just the average individual where they recognize in themselves that there is something special and that they can do incredible things with their life. It’s inspiring and your website is incredible. You have so much information on there, more than can be consumed in probably ten lifetimes.

I’ve spread the word in regard to FEE and other organizations that are similar. I commend you and applaud you for all the effort you put into spreading this. I know it’s not easy and I know that these are not widely held beliefs and understood beliefs. The way in which you do it is incredible because it feels genuine and eloquent and you do it with such a great demeanor. Thank you for all the work you’ve done and keep it up and continue to charge forward and try to get more people that understand this.

You made my day. Thanks so much for the very kind words. You seem like a guy who would be great fun to have lunch with. I’ll look you up and I’ll let you know when I come out your way next. Meantime, holler anytime if I can be of any help and let us know when this goes online and we’ll be happy to help promote it on the website and on social media.

Thank you again. I really appreciate it.

It’s my pleasure. Thanks, Patrick. I really appreciate it.

Important Links:

About Lawrence Reed

TWS 5 | Capitalism And Freedom

Since 2008, Lawrence W. Reed has been President of the Foundation for Economic Education ( in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously, he served for 21 years as President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan and taught economics at Northwood University. He is the author of hundreds of articles in periodicals around the world and seven books, the most recent of which are Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction and Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism. His travels as a historian, lecturer, economist, and journalist have taken him to 83 countries on six continents.


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Patrick Talks “Multi-Family” Real Estate With Michael Blank / Property, Episode -4

Patrick Donohoe welcomes Micheal Blank as his special guest for Property, Episode-4!

Michael is an entrepreneur, investor and personal development coach.  Originally, Michael made a large amount of money developing software during the dot com boom, and after diversifying is career, he found a passion for investing in multi-family properties.  His company Nighthawk Equity currently controls over $65 million in performing multi-family assets all over the United States and he dedicates tons of his time helping others become financially free in 3 to 5 years by investing in apartments buildings with a special focus on raising money.


Patrick Talks With Nick Vertucci / Property / Episode – 2

Patrick Donohoe talks about entrepreneurship and Real Estate with Nick Vertucci!

Nick is and educator and the founder of NV Real Estate. He came from a very humble background.  His life is “that” story.  The “rags to riches”, American underdog type story that many of us love to hear about, but wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy!

Nick hailed from a humble family, which could hardly make ends meet.  His situation got much worse and more difficult when his father died when he was only 10-years old.  He’s been running his own businesses since we was 18 and he’s been through pretty much everything an entrepreneur can go through!

Fast forward several years and his company NV Real Estate is doing fantastic and it’s for this reason and so many more that we’re honored to have Nick on this episode of The Wealth Standard.


Patrick Talks With James Arthur Ray / Property, Episode 1

Patrick Donohoe is honored to kick off the final season of 2018, with a guy who has been through more up’s and down’s than most of us will ever understand.

Our first guest of Season-3, “Property”, is James Arthur Ray.

James is a motivational speaker and is considered to be one of the worlds foremost leadership & performance advisors.  He’s a New York Times best-selling author, he was featured in the film documentary “The Secret”, a ground-breaking feature length film, AND….

James also went to prison.

In 2011 he was convicted of 3-counts of negligent homicide, when 3 people died while participating in one of his new age retreats.  How does somebody come back from a tragedy like that?  Listen now to find out!