When a Blinded 1930s Writer Saw the 2022 Future

Aldous Huxley, the English author, was blinded for nearly two years by infection when he was a teenager. Despite his ailment and lingering poor eyesight, Huxley managed to produce a dystopian classic with a precise vision that gazed ninety years into the future. His masterpiece, Brave New World, predicted with frightening accuracy modern society in the 21st century.

Huxley penned Brave New World in 1931 and published it in 1932, years before Orwell’s 1984. The dystopian worlds offered by each classic share similarities but also present sharp contrasts. Despite 1984’s rightful acclaim, one might argue Brave New World scores more direct hits when it comes to comparing its society to that of modern-day America.

Brave New World envisions a society run by a global bureaucracy that practices a kinder, gentler totalitarianism. There is a strict caste system of elite alphas at the top down through lowly epsilons at the bottom.  Humans are no longer born, but instead are manufactured, in labs with predetermined outcomes and castes.  Complex yet aimless entertainment and the drug soma are applied as tools to numb and train those in society to be passive and submissive.  God no longer exists, and everyone worships Henry Ford and makes the sign of the T.  Monogamy has been replaced with promiscuity.

A World of Parallels to Today

Seven eerily prescient parallels exist between Huxley’s Brave New World and today.

First, Huxley brilliantly illustrated how constant but hollow leisure in society does not lead to increased culture.  A popular saying in Brave New World is “never put off till tomorrow the fun you can have today.”  Games like obstacle golf are encouraged to the point of participation being a civic duty, and the games are designed to be complicated and constantly updated.   The complexity helps promote continuous and hollow consumption, so that people are kept busy by both playing the games and making the equipment to play the games with.  Self-cheating is encouraged.

The connections to today are striking.  Instant gratification prevails over long-term achievement.  Americans now have an obsession on consumerism with the constant acquiring of more stuff.  Consider the exponential growth in mindless entertainment such as VR and gaming.   And our everybody-gets-a-trophy/don’t-keep-score/cheat-until-caught culture.

Second, Brave New World informs us as to how science is the enemy of the totalitarian state when left unhindered and must be tightly controlled and distorted by the state so that it can become a useful instrument.

Science is a crucial piece of the strategy in keeping society in line, but scientific progress was purposely frozen with the advent of the world state.  Science and the muzzling control of it are the prices of stability.  Science propaganda is practiced at colleges, and one believes things because they were conditioned to believe them.  The culmination is science becomes a cook-book orthodoxy that is never challenged. The effort is managed by the state in a 60-story building that houses the Bureau of Propaganda and the College of Emotional Engineering.

The mirroring to today’s world is obvious.

Science has morphed into political science.  The scientific method has been replaced by scientific consensus.  We are told when the science is settled and are instructed to obey.  Questioners and dissenters of popular views or of accepted science in the university culture get labeled as heretics and deniers.  Although most literary critics interpret Brave New World to warn of the danger of science, I interpret something subtly but crucially different:  the danger of the state suppressing and commandeering science.

Third, Brave New World exposes the dangers of how the system can institutionalize class and solidify socio-economic barriers.   Mothers no longer give birth.  Instead, embryos are constructed in the lab and customized through chemistry to manufacture people at the desired caste level.  Effectively, children are decanted, from the privileged alphas down to the low-ranking epsilons.  Each person is molded by the hereditary and by the environment of the state-chosen caste.  Babies are not raised by parents but by State Conditioning Centers and are trained by crude Pavlovian methods to hate flowers and books.  The ideal society is described as having the proportion of an iceberg, where 1/9th sits at the top as elite alphas and the remaining 8/9ths are toiling below the water line.

Think about how much of this is present today.

Our public education system in major cities virtually guarantees students never realize their full potential.  Self-determination as to what one does in life is becoming an increasing rarity because of socio-economic obstacles. Science, math, and reading competency are not the focus of education these days. Instead, the exclusive focus is to deaden the minds of students and create a subservient collective that thinks what it is told to think and believes what it is told to believe.  The 1/9th of elites are the alphas above the water line, while the rest of society is kept struggling below the water line.

Fourth, Brave New World reminds us of the perils of loveless sex and promiscuity.  In Huxley’s society, “everyone belongs to everyone else.”  Sex is pursued exclusively for physical pleasure and the idea of a dedicated and committed relationship is viewed as savage.  The character Lenina (Huxley assigned character names in Brave New World to be plays on despots, scientists, politicians, and business leaders) gets lectured by her friend for not being promiscuous enough.  Children are taught “erotic play.”  Family, love, and monogamy are pornographic.  The word “mother” has become a crude obscenity, so profane that to speak it sparks revulsion.

The similarities to today are obvious.  Marriage and the family structure have never been under more duress.  Internet porn and lust have replaced personal intimacy and love.  Topics that not long ago were discussed in high school sex ed class are now covered in explicit detail in elementary schools.  We are learning that free love often ends up in less love.

Fifth, in Brave New World we see what awaits society in a drug culture. The miracle opiate is soma, and it is administered from cradle to grave, with euthanized death set by the state promptly at age 60.  Workers are paid in soma to feed their addiction.  Soma giveth by arresting the aging process, providing an emotional high, and softening depression during tough times or from harsh realities. But soma also taketh by acting as a poison that kills the person over years of use and eradicating individual thought and free will.

Huxley would be shocked at how the various modern versions of soma afflict Europe and America today.  Social media brings mass emotional addiction to children and adults.  Fentanyl, heroin, crack, alcohol, and marijuana are consumed legally and illegally to create physical additions that cross all socio-economic levels, as people seek escape from whatever haunts them.  Imagery of the physical ideal sets expectations at a young age, leading to more and more medical procedures and treatments to halt the natural aging process.

Sixth, Brave New World paints a society where the individual is erased into the collective and where free will and independent thought are vanquished by totalitarian domination.  Imagination and sense of self are dangers. Individual free thinkers who read the banned great works, from the Bible to Shakespeare, are savages of old civilization and are exiled to the wilds.  A popular slogan is “when the individual feels, the community reels.” Another one is “everyone works for everyone else.”  War is waged against the past, when individual rights were supreme.  To be happy, you don’t pick your path; instead you learn to enjoy the path that has been selected for you.

What an accurate portrayal Huxley foresaw of today’s political correctness.

Views of the state are constantly streamed to kids from all directions and across all mediums so that it conforms their minds.  There are parallels to today’s cancel culture, where you must tear down anything traditional that would make one think and challenge.  College syllabuses delete classic works and public square statutes of prominent leaders are removed.  Dissenters are not simply ostracized but attacked by the Twitter mob.  And meritocracy, attacked as unfair, is replaced with the unethical injustice of equal outcomes.

Seventh and last, Brave New World demonstrates how such a dystopian society is a result of omnipotent and global totalitarian government.  The World State motto is “Community, Identity, Stability.”  A World Controller determines what information is allowed for public access and consumption, what science is acceptable, and what works are to be locked up and forbidden.  The state figured out that social conditioning was much more effective and lasting than brute force when looking to control a population.

These days, global organizations and accords make one wonder if we still live in a republican democracy.   The United Nations, World Health Organization, World Bank, and G-20 hold more sway over Americans’ pocketbooks, quality of life, freedoms, and decision-making than the U.S. Congress.  The faceless unelected bureaucrat buried within the administrative state holds more power than our elected president.  Domestic regulations and international accords take away more of our liberty in 2022 than any legislation or statute.

The Brave New World Outside Our Doors

In conclusion, Huxley provided a valuable service to the human condition.  He presented in stark contrast two very different views for the individual and society.  Consider two passages from Brave New World as illustrative of the contrast.

First, from the Director, who as representative of the state betrays a hatred for the individual: “The greater a man’s talents, the greater his power to lead astray.  Better for one to suffer than many be corrupted. Murder kills only the individual and what is the individual?  We can make more of them.  Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of the individual, it strikes at society itself.”

Second, from John the outcast, who didn’t want comfort if it prohibited truth: “I don’t want comfort.  I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

Huxley, who passed away on the same day JFK was assassinated, warned us that before we start pining for such a brave new world, we should wait till we see it first.  My fear is the wait is over and it now sits outside our doors.

Heed the Historical Rhyming of Ludwig von Mises’ Omnipotent Government

Ludwig von Mises was a shining light in the Austrian school of economics and for libertarianism. Despite the obsession Keynesians and socialists have with tarnishing his legacy, Mises sounded the alarm about statism louder and clearer than anyone.

One of his great works was Omnipotent Government, which Mises published toward the end of World War II. Although much of the book focuses on analyzing fascism and socialism, many of the book’s insights from the mid-1940s are quite pertinent today.

Capitalism versus Totalitarianism

There are two big, opposite ideological trends for mankind to choose from.

The first is capitalism, which embraces freedom, rights of man, self-determination, and technology. Under capitalism the arts and science thrive. Excellence and meritocracy are celebrated.

The second is totalitarianism, where the state is omnipotent. Power is vested in government because government promises to make paradise.  Individual happiness becomes the duty of government, creating a nanny-state. The final goal is not a national government but a universal government.

Mises understood human nature comes with a certain level of intolerance of criticism of an individual’s social and economic beliefs. Often the intolerance is accompanied with labeling the critics as enemies of the nation, race, or group.

Capitalism has a clearly superior record compared to socialism and communism.  Thus, the supporters of the latter take pains to slander the former. Mises set the facts straight when it comes to capitalism’s superiority over socialism and communism.

Yes, capitalists and inventors get rich, but they do so while everyone else becomes better off with their inventions and products.  Capitalism is far from perfect, but in the long run raises quality of life for all, including the poor. Despite government continually attempting to stifle it. True liberals oppose state impediments to a free economy and freedom of economic activity.

Such benefits are not found with the bureaucrat or state control of the economy. Communism did not bring technological innovation to society and only copied the innovations of the capitalists. Only a bureaucrat can think that adding more bureaucrats, regulations, or impediments can be positive and beneficial. And the justifications will be in the name of progress and freedom, with both being the first casualties.

The concept of pervasive, omnipotent government did not start with the commoners and bubble up to the elite. Quite the contrary. Statism was conceptualized by the elite. All socialist thought was hatched by the 1%.

Totalitarians, whether socialist, religious, fascist, or communist, believe they are smarter than the citizens. Extreme right meets extreme left, with no tolerance of dissent. Hitler got his orders from above; the religious leader is infallible; President Xi enjoys demi-god status; and Putin is now leader for life instead of elected president for term. The German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle claimed, “the state is God,” which was eventually adopted as a slogan by the Nazis.

The Big Middle

But between capitalism and totalitarianism sits a wide spectrum of free market and government intervention mix. Etatism¹ is an economic system where the state owns and runs many things although some limited capitalism still exists.  Economic interventionism is the hallmark of etatism.

There is interference by restriction, where the state diverts production from channels demanded by the market, consumers, and technology into what the state desires.  Doing so makes people poorer, prevents individuals from achieving, erodes wealth, and wastefully expends funds.  Government ends up taxing losers and subsidizing winners, with inefficient bureaucracy in the middle of it all.

Interference by price controls is the second method of government interventionism, which sets values and prices differently than what the market sets them at.  Where market pricing sets equilibrium of supply and demand, government price controls create scarcity and rationing.

Mises found it ironic that the free market nations fighting Germany in World War II, the UK and US, were adopting a more etatist approach with a command economy.  In these once capitalistic economies, taxation was transformed into confiscation, free thinkers were taught to be thought followers, and individual freedom to act was supplanted with government now having the initiative.

In many ways, the creeping etatism of the Allied nations set the stage for World War II by creating international economic strains.  The UK wanted to protect its industry from France.  Belgians fought Dutch imports.  Subsidies for exports grew everywhere.  Protectionist tariffs spread virally.  Each nation was waging an economic war against other nations.  Everyone wanted free trade for everyone else and protectionist policies for their own nation.  Pain and tensions ratcheted up to the breaking point—and it feels like the same is happening today.

Mises knew that to address economic woes or preserve world peace, you don’t need another government office, bureaucrat, or global organization like the UN.

What is needed is stopping and rescinding domestic economic policies that substitute government for the private actor.

Unfortunately, we continue to drift to more etatism, with the growth of the administrative state to address inequality and the adoption of international accords like Paris to ‘combat’ climate change.

The evil genius of the transformation of western nations from free market to etatist is that when troubling symptoms of state control hit, such as inflation, unemployment, and economic inequality, people become convinced it is the fault of capitalism and not the fault of illiberal policies of government intervention. Academia and the bureaucratic state ridicule economic liberalism, the social sciences vilify the free market, university students are taught to admire socialists, and the entertainment industry has been promoting etatism in plays, writings, songs, and movies since the days of George Bernard Shaw.

The closer a nation orbits toward etatism and away from capitalism, the graver the danger. Mises said it best: “A state whose chiefs recognize but one rule, to do whatever at the moment seems expedient in their eyes, is a state without law. It does not make any difference whether or not these tyrants are benevolent.”

Although the state may end up doing and running lots of things, the essence of state action is always coercion and compulsion.  When done surgically and tactically, it works for the individual. But it should never be the ultimate. It is simply an instrument for the true ultimate: the individual.

The Weimer Republic and Today

Unfortunately, state economic intervention is popular as ever, including in the US.  FDR would be shocked to see how since the Great Depression, America blew past his New Deal incremental interventionist shifts and now sits closer than ever to socialism.  How did we get here?  Consider parallels to Germany just after World War I.

During the failed German Weimer Republic, businesses were accused of profiteering, inflation ruined the middle class, incompetent government looked to price controls, and a socialist approach was taken to monetary policy.  The media, economists, and politicians of the time ignored the danger of excessive monetary policy leading to commodity inflation. Capitalism was vilified as exploitive, unfair, warmongering, and benefitting only the 1%.

The answer was to increasingly manage business by government and the bureaucrat.  Easy money, price controls, wage floors, export subsidy, and import tariffs blossomed. All for the public good and to help the little guy.

Sound familiar?

Rise of the Nazis and Today

American popular support for socialism, communism, and state intervention have never been higher. We did not arrive at this point by accident, but under a methodical campaign waged by the elite over decades.

Much of the campaign’s playbook copied that of the Nazis in their rise to power before World War II. Nazism and German nationalism were first resisted by big business and the middle class. But these groups had no consistent ideology and were overcome by the academic focus of Nazism and nationalism. Youth came out of university indoctrinated to the cause.

The nationalists assumed key government posts. The economy became more etatist, which made businesses subserviate to the government and the bureaucrat’s nationalist ideology. The government ended up forcing business to bow to its views and fund those views.  Business had no way to influence public opinion once the tipping point was reached. The intellectuals beat the businessmen.

Substitute leftist/socialist for Nazi/nationalist, 2010-2020s for 1920-1930s, and America for Germany. Concerned?

Conclusion

The state has been an endless source of mischief and disaster through history.

Mises observed that “there is no more dangerous menace to civilization than a government of incompetent, corrupt, or vile men.” The minority in a society stands to lose and suffer the most as a state moves from capitalist end toward the etatist/totalitarian side of the spectrum.

That’s why I’ve always found libertarianism attractive.

Classic liberals and libertarians are not anarchists and do not desire to abolish the state. We want government to recognize the supremacy of the individual and to protect private property. If you have private property, then you have individual rights, and vice versa.

To avoid war, eliminate its causes, which are all too often nationalism and lack of free markets.  Make government small and focused on preserving life, health, and property. And safeguarding the free market.

Yet Mises’ writings convinced me that etatism is the natural tendency of bureaucrats and governments.  Only liberalism and capitalism prevail when pressed and forced by citizens. Market interventionism is a slippery slope that can quickly slide us toward totalitarianism.

Mark Twain noted that history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Let’s hope the American experience in the coming years does not rhyme with Germany’s in the first half of the 20th century.

[1] Alberto Mingardi explains, “Mises uses ‘etatism’ instead of statism because that word, ‘derived from the French état… clearly expresses the fact that etatism did not originate in the Anglo Saxon countries, and has only lately got hold of the Anglo-Saxon mind.’”

How $9.80 Created a Literary Balm for Troubled Times: Revisiting Fahrenheit 451

Today, looking around our great yet troubled country, one can’t help but feel the suppressing force of cancel culture. Watch what you say, keep your thoughts to yourself, and be careful who you talk openly to. And for goodness’ sake, don’t convey appreciation for the great works of the past, whether they be historical (Jefferson or Hamilton), philosophical (Aurelius or Rand), literary (Twain or Orwell), economic (Friedman or von Mises) or scientific (Darwin or Columbus). Such carelessness may land you out of a job, expelled from university, rejected from the neighborhood book club, and vilified on social media.

For the few of us that subscribe to this prudent path yet suffer from a genetic flaw that creates an innate resistance to today’s cancel culture and woke police, we can take solace in a handful of literary masterpieces from the 20th century. At the top stands George Orwell’s 1984 (1949). And there is the prescient Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (1940), who introduced his observations on intellectual and political tyranny.

As great as those two works are, there is a third that serves as the supreme combination of adventurous storytelling, political commentary, and contemporary relevance. It was written in the early 1950s by its author in the basement of the UCLA library on a public typewriter. A dime bought 30 minutes of typewriter time, and the author ended up investing 98 dimes to produce the original manuscript.

The $9.80 book is Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic, Fahrenheit 451. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and invest the time to do so. If it’s been a while since you read it, revisiting the story in 2021 will provide a stunning and new perspective for these tumultuous times. The story should bother you, as it pertains to crucially important subjects worth being bothered about.

The story revolves around Gus Montag, a fireman in a future society where the job of firemen is not to save homes from burning, but instead to burn books and the structures (and at times, the people) hiding them. The tools of the trade are vehicles and hoses loaded with kerosine and igniters (451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper burns). The fireman’s credo was best summarized by Montag: “It’s fine work. Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then burn the ashes. That’s our official slogan.”

The fireman’s rules were simple and sequential: answer the alarm quickly, start the fire swiftly, burn everything, report back to the firehouse, and then be alert for other alarms. Books are viewed as loaded guns that must be destroyed to protect people from thinking.

The government and its minions, including the firemen, get to play the censors, judges, and executioners. Instead of being born free and equal under the Constitution, the aim of the police state is now to make everyone equal.

On its surface, Fahrenheit 451 is a dramatic story about how the individual and his free will overcomes oppression in society and government. That alone would make the book must-read. But there are other, just as impactful, themes in Bradbury’s tale. Consider a few ‘hows’:

  • How media and government feed viewers/citizens shallow content to sedate the mind of the individual. In the book, parlor rooms in homes consist of giant floor-to-ceiling walls covered by video screens that play constant, hollow programming. Sports are offered up as a sedative to keep the masses happy and quiet. Everyone is conditioned to watch and listen, to the point where they stop talking to one another and thinking for themselves. Bradbury was foreshadowing today’s reality shows and giant LED 4k TVs that lower the viewer’s and society’s collective consciousness.
  • How superficial materialism and ‘keeping up with Joneses’ are unfulfilling and demoralizing to the human spirit. Montag’s wife, Mildred, pines for a fourth wall of TVs in their parlor room, even though it would require a third of Montag’s annual pay. Her addiction to the drivel and her desire for yet another screen does not buy her happiness; she tries (unsuccessfully) to commit suicide by consuming a bottle of sleeping pills.
  • How government and technology conspire to create an oppressive surveillance state. Family members are encouraged to rat one another out if books are present, akin to bias reporting tools on today’s university campuses for non-sanctioned views and thoughts. The hound is a technological innovation in the book that tracks and kills its prey, mainly individuals marked for elimination by the state. The hound of today can be found in drones, artificial intelligence, and tracking technology. As Montag’s boss and nemesis said, “Any man’s insane who thinks he can fool the government and us.”
  • How the education system is utilized to eradicate thought and debate and replace it with conscripted indoctrination. In the book, school curriculum is shortened, academic discipline is relaxed, and subjects such as philosophy and history are dropped. Children are removed from their home environment as early as possible in life, so that they can develop in the controlled state-sanctioned environment of the public school. Content focuses exclusively on teaching how to press buttons and pulling switches, never on how to think. Looking around at our public education system and colleges today, you get the feeling academia stole the playbook from Bradbury’s world.
  • How the ‘tyranny of the majority’ will drive an open society without protections for the minority into an oppressive one. Fahrenheit 451 reminds us that calcification to the majority (or, for that matter, the ability of the minority to stamp out thought) is an enemy of truth, the individual, and reason. Today, it is what we call ‘cancel culture,’ except it is now a majority of the minority of elites who decide for the masses what is truth and reason.
  • How society is broken down into two categories: those who build and those who burn. Montag lived in a society where the makers (builder/thinker/doer) were dulled and overcome by the takers (bureaucrat/thought police/administrator). Today’s administrative state in government, the academic complex, and key special interests are steadily subsuming those who create, enable, and serve free enterprise and value creation. Might we be much closer to Montag’s time than we realize?

Although Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 for America in the 1950s, he succeeded in providing us a piercing reminder of the need to safeguard freedoms in 2021. A wise character in the book, Faber, listed three essential reasons why books are important. First, quality books present imperfections and blemishes that mimic life, at times making books feared. Second, good books extract leisure time to induce the reader to think. And third, great books inspire and catalyze action.

Fahrenheit 451 scores on all three of Faber’s essential reasons. We should be grateful that Ray Bradbury invested 98 dimes in the UCLA library basement and his time to express his passion for literature and individual freedom. The rate of return on that investment is incalculable.

Nick Deiuliis’ Forthcoming Book, “The Leech,” to be Released to Public

Today, Nick Deiuliis announced a digital release of his forthcoming new book, “The Leech,” at no charge. Book chapters will be individually released on a rolling basis at nickdeiuliis.com, beginning on Thursday, May 27.

“I’m excited to provide an opportunity for all to read The Leech—especially our young people, small business owners, and doers from all walks of life. I appreciate the publisher, Republic Books, partnering on this unique rollout,” Deiuliis said. “I wrote The Leech to rebut the growing segments of society who continue to take more and more from society’s producers and who vilify their success. By availing The Leech for all to read, hopefully more individuals are encouraged to speak up against the elites threatening the disadvantaged, the middle class, the individual, and free enterprise.”

Starting on May 27, the first chapter of The Leech will be released at nickdeiuliis.com. Subsequent chapters will be serially released each week thereafter. Each chapter will be accompanied by a podcast on the website, providing expanded commentary. The complete print edition will be released by Republic Book Publishers in January 2022 and can be pre-ordered at nickdeiuliis.com.

Proceeds from the sale of The Leech will go to support a new Mentorship Academy, announced by Deiuliis last month, serving underprivileged youth in western Pennsylvania.

More information on the Academy, The Leech, as well as recent commentary by Deiuliis, is available at nickdeiuliis.com. Follow Deiuliis on Twitter at @NickDeiuliis.

Nick Deiuliis is a chemical engineer, attorney, and business executive. During a career spanning 30 years, he served as the leader of several public energy companies. Nick is a thought-provoking voice in the energy and manufacturing industries, advocating for technology, labor, environmental, and capital markets policy issues. He is a regular media contributor and speaks extensively on the virtues of the carbon economy, the nobility of the worker and middle class, and the vital importance of individual rights. Nick is a proud capitalist, free enterprise advocate, and lifelong Pittsburgher.

Allen Ginsberg Back Then Sounds Like Nostradamus Today

Let me get something out of the way at the start. I am not a fan of Allen Ginsberg, the beat poet or the person.

Ginsberg the poet was pro-communist and a staunch anti-capitalist. I don’t understand how his style of poetry, that utilized a continuous rat-tat-tat delivery, is art. But as I’ve said many times, what do I know about art?

Ginsberg the person was not a good man. He was a heavy drug user. He was a member and supporter of an organization that worked to abolish age of consent laws and advocated for legalizing sexual relations between adults and children. Seriously. The organization is the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), and it is believed to still be in existence today, in a clandestine form.

Until a few weeks ago, there was not a single thing I liked about Ginsberg and much of what he stood for I found repulsive. Every time I came across him or his work, my feelings only solidified. Ironically, it was another historical figure I admire greatly who provided an insight of Ginsberg’s that resonates in 2021.

That person was William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative thought leader. By chance, I came across an old 1968 Firing Line episode hosted by him where Allen Ginsberg was the featured guest. That’s one of the things I love about Buckley: he never hesitated to go head-to-head to match wits with the elite of the opposition in front of a live audience.

Much of the Firing Line episode is what you would expect, with Buckley Jr. and Ginsberg debating a range of issues in chaotic 1968 that they had very different views on. Ginsberg read some of his poetry to the audience, and Buckley Jr.’s facial expressions during the rendering of the prose were priceless.

But Ginsberg raised a subject that shot through the grainy 1968 video and hit me. The subject was free speech, particularly how the suppression of freedom of thought is censorship. Ginsberg, I have to say, scored major points with his views.

What got the topic rolling was Ginsberg pointing out that the Firing Line producers prior to the show asked Ginsberg to refrain from cursing during the live debate. Ginsberg felt that the request was censorship of his thoughts because artists like him used obscenities in the normal course of developing thought patterns. If you disrupt the vocabulary that constitutes the thought patterns, you disrupt speech as a result.

I listened to Ginsberg and immediately drew a parallel to the politically correct and language-matters police of today.

Instead of obscenities, campuses today prohibit use of pronouns such as ‘his’ and ‘she.’ Lewd words are acceptable across the spectrum of media today, but you better not utter ‘Christian’ unless you are ridiculing the faith. And crude references are fine in art displays funded by today’s foundations and museums, just don’t speak of ‘capitalism’ in those rooms unless you are promoting its demise.

Ginsberg continued with his theme, going beyond the Firing Line producers’ request. He posited that the “octopus of the state” was intruding on the “language consciousness” of society. Ginsberg would be shocked at how long that octopus’ arms have become in 2021 when it comes to controlling our consciousness, especially considering how government collaborates with media, tech, and academia to control speech, language, thought, and opinion.

He lamented to Buckley Jr. that America was becoming a police state, like Eastern Europe at the time. America today has become a police state run not by the Right, as Ginsberg feared, but instead by the Left. The Left’s high priests do not tolerate dissenting views on climate change, socialism, school choice, or even politics. Step in tune with the officially sanctioned views or face the career- and life-altering consequences.

Ginsberg was also predicting the future when he articulated how in the late 1960s more money in the arts was wasted on fighting the system than was invested into making art. To Ginsberg, that was an outrage.

A business owner toiling in today’s economy can certainly commiserate with the poet.

Our economy’s ‘doers’ must constantly throw more and more hard-earned dollars into fighting the administrative state: to keep their business open during the pandemic, to stop incessant regulatory creep, to keep taxes from ratcheting excruciatingly higher (while also paying to navigate the tax code), and to counter the system’s perpetually looping message of how business is the problem and not the solution.

Ginsberg exhibited the personal behaviors of a deviant. Much of his politics were wrong-headed. But one night over fifty years ago he articulated astute positions on free speech, censorship, and the dangers of the state. The poet’s words from the spring of 1968 on these subjects are instructive to all today.

You can view the Firing Line episode here on the Hoover Institute’s YouTube channel.