The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: January 2009

Jefferson vs. Obama

In a letter to John Taylor in May 1816, Thomas Jefferson commented on the term republic, after having read Taylor’s “Enquiry into the principles of our government”* :

“Indeed, it must be acknowledged, that the term republic is of very vague application in every language. Witness the self-styled republics of Holland, Switzerland, Genoa, Venice, Poland.”

Jefferson goes on to state that the term is ideally applicable to a population of a particular size inhabiting a region not much larger than a Greek city-state, and in which elected and appointed officials are directly answerable to the electorate. He projected that in larger republics, representatives would also be answerable to the electorate and be duty-bound to follow its instructions to secure its life, liberty, and property.

“On this view of the import of the term republic, instead of saying, as has been said, ‘that it may mean anything or nothing,’ we may say with truth and meaning, that governments are more or less republican as they have more or less of the element of popular election and control in their composition; and believing, as I do, that the mass of the citizens is the safest depository of their own rights, and especially, that the evils flowing from the duperies of the people, are less injurious than those from the egoism of their agents, I am a friend to that composition of government which has in it the most of this ingredient.”**

Jefferson also noted in his letter that “the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” What an apt description of the current federal “bailout” and “stimulus” programs! Jefferson, of course, could not have imagined the scale of evil that will flow (and has flowed in past administrations) as a result of a combination of the “duperies of the people” and the arrogance of President Barack Obama through his proposed $1 trillion plus spending programs, together with the government’s theft in the act of printing more money.

Although the body of Jefferson’s politics is often referred to as “Jeffersonian democracy,” one paragraph in his writing obviates that notion. It occurs in an April 1816 reply to Pierre S. DuPont de Nemours (1739-1817), a French economist who had drafted constitutions for South American governments. It buttresses his idea of an ideal republic, one that protects and upholds individual rights:

“Liberty, truth, probity, honor, are declared to be the four cardinal principles of your society. I believe with you that morality, compassion, generosity, are innate elements of the human constitution; that there exists a right independent of force; that a right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings; that no one has a right to obstruct another, exercising his faculties innocently for the relief of sensibilities made a part of his nature; that justice is the fundamental law of society; that the majority, oppressing an individual, is guilty of a crime, abuses its strength, and by acting on the law of the strongest breaks up the foundations of society; that action by the citizens in person, in affairs within their reach and competence, and in all others by representatives, chosen immediately, and removable by themselves, constitutes the essence of a republic; that all governments are more or less republican in proportion as their principle enters more or less into their composition and that a government by representation is capable of extension over a greater surface of country than one of any other form.”*** [Italics mine.]

So much for Jeffersonian “democracy.” Jefferson’s concept of “majority rule” was founded on the premise that men would “naturally” know their individual rights and act to defend them, although he had witnessed in his own time how groundless that belief was. However, his concept of the nature of man (inherited chiefly from John Locke) is the basis for his statement on the evil of physical force and is derived from reality. I do not think Jefferson ever divested himself of the intrinsicism present in much of his political thought, but this should not gainsay the empirical truth of his argument here, that is, that he made true statements.

That observation brings us to the pièce de résistance of this commentary. In June of 1816, Samuel Kercheval wrote Jefferson for his thoughts on a proposed revision of Virginia’s first constitution. A month later Jefferson replied, devoting a great part of his letter to a warning about the consequences of unending government debt:

“I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, as that we must be taxed in our meat and our drink, in our necessities and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they now do, on oatmeal and potatoes; have no time to think, no means of calling the mis-managers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers. Our landholders, too, like theirs, retaining indeed the title and stewardship of estates called theirs, but held really in trust for the treasury, must wander, like theirs, in foreign countries, and be contended with penury, obscurity, exile, and the glory of the nation.

“This example reads to us the salutary lesson, that private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as by private extravagance….A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, and to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia [war of all against all], which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.”****

No better description of our current dilemma can be found anywhere else, except in John Galt‘s speech to the nation in Ayn Rand‘s prophetic novel, Atlas Shrugged.

It could be said that Jefferson placed too much confidence in the wisdom and rectitude of “the people.” Perhaps in his time, a time when reason still exerted an influence on men and on the culture, there was reason to believe that they would not so easily or so quickly sell their birthright for a mess of pottage, as many Americans have done today, that is, those who chose profusion and servitude over economy and liberty. These are the Americans who have been raised in a welfare state, but who also have benefited from the energies of the productive sector of the economy. They have been taught that there is no connection between a growing, looting welfare state and decreasing productivity and a shrinking private sector, and that because there is no connection, there is nothing to think about. Just believe what politicians and college professors and the news media say.

Destroy private fortunes, expropriate the wealth and savings of the productive and the thrifty, redistribute the proceeds, as a consequence sentence millions of others to servitude to subsist on oatmeal and potatoes, to labor in the private sector or to help link their own chains to those of others in government jobs that are but camouflaged welfare programs — and all will be well.

When the connection between the moral and the practical is severed in men’s minds and in practice, then we have today’s crisis. A crisis is a state when all is not well.

John Galt, in his speech, said that man’s only original sin is a refusal to think. That is what many Americans are guilty of, faced with the evidence which they repress in their minds because their appetite for the unearned exceeds their apprehension of reality, an appetite made “moral“ by the advocates, past and present, of faith and force. They are both the dupes and the engine of statism. Our government has little to fear from “the people,” else why would it accelerate its extravagant takeover of the economy with impunity?

“I tremble for my country,” wrote Jefferson in Notes on Virginia, “when I reflect that God is just.” Some Americans may agree with him, as the country moves closer to bankruptcy, collapse, anarchy, and war of all against all for possession of what is left of it, because it had abandoned reason and tried to cheat reality.

Other Americans will agree with John Galt, that it is reality which cannot be cheated, and that its justice is ineluctable and impervious to hopes and wishes.

*Also known as An Enquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States, completed in 1814. Taylor (1753-1824), veteran of the Revolution, a strict “constructionist” of the Constitution, and advocate of the states’ rights doctrine, also wrote Arator (1813) and Tyranny Unmasked (1822), the latter a critique of growing federal powers. A life-long ally of Jefferson, he was a key political philosopher who served in the U.S. Senate and Virginia House of Delegates.

**Jefferson: Writings, New York: The Library of America (1984), “The Test of Republicanism,” pp. 1391-5.
***Op. cit., “Constitutionally and Conscientiously Democrats,” pp. 1384-8.
****Op. cit, “Reform of the Virginia Constitution,” pp. 1395-1403.

A Tyranny Postscript

I want to thank and compliment those who left comments in response to “An Inauguration of Tyranny” (January 20) for their perceptive and concerned remarks. The essay certainly excited vigorous thought and argument, more than I had expected. What those comments are evidence of is the existence of rational minds at large, minds that will be needed if the suicidal course this country is on is ever to be grasped, communicated and corrected. Many respondents’ remarks were outstanding, deserving some annotation here.

One respondent suggested that definitions of the terms tyrant and dictator would be helpful in determining whether Barack Obama is one or the other. In history, tyrants usually seized power in contravention to an established political process, and seized it with popular support or with the connivance of politicians. Dictators usually came to power by means of a formal political process, also with popular support. But, in the end, such persons wielded the arbitrary and destructive powers of a tyrant. Technically, then, Obama is now an elective dictator (and what president over the last 150 years hasn‘t been one, exercising powers the Founders never intended the office to have over the economy, property, science, the arts, and health?), but together with an eagerly compliant Congress, he will be a tyrant, cashing in on the uncorrected trends in philosophy, in the culture, and in politics so aptly described by Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff.

However, not even the OED is helpful in distinguishing the fundamental difference between a tyrant and a dictator, except that its definition of tyrant stresses the cruelty of someone exercising absolute power.

One respondent remarked that Obama is the first “anti-American” president. True. Obama is a thorough-going collectivist committed to everything the Founders opposed, all his assurances to the contrary notwithstanding. Now that he is in office, he has become a statist. He is now sporting an American flag pin on the lapel of his suit jacket, as though that will deflect charges of his anti-Americanism.

Another respondent wrote: “Together with Obama’s claim that he is not an ideologue, what this statement sets up is the opportunity for him and his supporters to call those who disagree with him small minded, prejudiced and bigoted ideologues.” True. The irony is that Obama is what could be called an anti-intellectual ideologue, a person who, as a matter of conscious policy, dispenses with ideas and demands “action” without thought of the consequences, except for the wish (or hope, to borrow Obama’s term) that the action has the results he imagines and wants. The only people who could confound or delay the realization of those wishes, hopes and ends are identifiable “ideologues” who question the wisdom of the action on moral and/or practical grounds. These are the persons he and his allies in and out of Congress wish to silence or denigrate or so side-line that they are for all practical purposes unheard of and unheard.

Furthermore, the only ingredient left that would complete the picture of total control is blatant censorship (barring for the time being the incarceration and/or trial of political opponents, but the ”bailout” and “stimulus” packages are direct or indirect seizures or nationalizations of private property). Obama needn’t issue a directive that silences Rush Limbaugh or anyone else who disagrees with government policies and actions. He has the Federal Communications Commission and other government bodies with the power to permit free or controlled expression, in addition to that vampire, the “Fairness Doctrine,” ready to climb out of its coffin and sink its thought-numbing teeth into the minds of all Americans. He needn’t stick his neck out so obviously and leave himself open to the charge of censorship, a concept which, to him and its advocates, retains as much a superstitiously negative or unsavory connotation as does the term socialist. As many other commentators have noted, Obama et al. instead prefer to be called progressives.

As with the original Progressives, they do not want Americans to know what it is they are “progressing” to, which, in a word, whether they intend it or not, is to totalitarianism.

The established press and news media are already losing audiences to the Internet and are also in financial straits. Expect to hear louder calls in and out of Congress to regulate the Internet.

Another respondent observed that I did not call Obama a tyrant. This is correct. I called him a “horror.” It will be his administration that will have the trappings and characteristics of tyranny.

One respondent noted that “Obama himself is much less a harbinger of coming tyranny than are his followers.” This is true. For space and length reasons, I did not dwell on the potential danger of Obama’s supporters. If he succeeds in pushing through Congress his idea of a “civilian army” the coequal of the military, it will be largely composed of the “community thugs” identified by another respondent, the kind who made so much “change” in Obama’s old Chicago neighborhood in his pre-Illinois senate activist days. This “army” will be managed and directed by persons in business suits, but instead of Nazi brown or Fascist black shirts, their recruits will come knocking on your door in jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps or the equivalent. Without such an army of “enforcers” (a.k.a. “volunteers”) Obama could not hope to “persuade” the recalcitrant to become “public spirited” and sacrificially cooperative. Or to just shut up…or else.

Long live Lady Liberty!

An Inauguration of Tyranny

A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. — The Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776.

January 20th, 2009. Another “date which will live in infamy.”

Watching news media coverage of Barack Obama’s journey to the White House was much like watching the broadcast propaganda of a dystopian fantasy in films like V, or the Richard Burton’s 1984, or Fahrenheit 451 — except that the news media is not a vast government department spewing out lies and disinformation, haranguing and brow-beating the public, but a nominally independent entity reporting Obama’s triumph with deliriously mindless happy talk. For all practical purposes, the news media have largely surrendered the sovereignty of the freedom of the press in exchange for the emotional solicitude of “hope” and the privilege of being a demagogue’s mouthpiece. That so many viewers and listeners disagree or are skeptical of what the news media has reported about Obama are blithely ignored by editorial writers and news anchors is a measure of media bias. We wish it to be so; ergo, it is true. He is our savior, our Messiah, our Leader. He will show us the way.

At a cost of over $150 million, the inauguration of January 20th had the character of a royal coronation (or a biblical pageant, if you will), witnessed by millions in Washington and on television by millions around the world, secured by 8,000 police, 11,000 military personnel, 1,000 park rangers, and countless plainclothesmen, and reported by a euphoric press. The millions who thronged or thrilled to see Obama become the 44th president of the United States are comfortable with the idea of being ruled, of being told what to do and why to live — and with the idea of seeing those who neither need nor want rulers overruled.

Having written extensively on America’s Revolutionary period in fiction and nonfiction, I took special and personal offense to Obama’s Philadelphia speech on January 17th, in which he appropriated the Revolution without once mentioning the ideas that made it possible. In that speech, he turned those unnamed ideas inside out, pronouncing the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but meaning entirely different things by them. Your “life,” he said or implied, is not entirely your own, but your neighbor’s or the nation’s; your “liberty,” he suggested, exists as long it is regulated if not otherwise prohibited; your “pursuit of happiness,” he insisted, is possible but not before you serve and sacrifice for the good and happiness of all.

Lest it be thought that I am putting words into his mouth or twisting his meaning, read the transcripts of all of Obama’s campaign and acceptance speeches, and it will be seen that he is no friend of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness — qua individual rights. Obama’s speeches have always been a broth of rhetorical ambiguities and populist language addressed to the worst in men, concealing an intention to rule, to decree, to govern like a prince with the unqualified leave of his subjects.

Obama’s admirers and supporters constitute a people who do not want to be free, and who do not want anyone else to be free. Allowing their emotions to govern their minimal thought and their actions, they have endorsed his notion that everyone must be tied in servitude and sacrifice to everyone else to “work together” for a “more perfect union.” Further, they view themselves as “victims,” and he has been the salve of their troubled souls.

I have argued for years that the Founders created a republic and were hostile to the idea of a democracy. Obama’s victory is a perilous instance of democracy in action. A majority of the electorate wished for bread and circuses. He has promised them bread and circuses. And uncounted tens of thousands of them have made what Diane Sawyer of ABC approvingly, but appropriately, called a “pilgrimage” to hear him promise them again.

But, listening to Obama and the obliging news media, one would get the impression that his “mandate” was unanimously granted by the whole nation. Not true. But Obama never knew the truth, while the news media has forgotten it or buried it.

An examination of his Philadelphia speech, however, is in order. That speech, like his past speeches and those of so many other power-seekers, is a conceptual mess. A line by line critique may be interesting, but fruitless. What deserves highlighting and closer scrutiny is his theft of the Revolution, for without that arrogant purloining of the Declaration, the speech would have had no substance. Obama dared not elaborate on the ideas that made the Revolution possible; they are radically antithetical to what he has professed to be the solution to the nation’s problems, real or imaginary.

It is noteworthy that while the terms tyrant and tyranny each occur twice in the Declaration of Independence, Obama dared not refer to them in the Philadelphia speech, either. Using them might have given his worshippers food for thought. Thinking is not what he wants Americans to do.

“And yet, they were willing to put all they were and all they had on the line — their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor –for a set of ideals that continue to light the world. That we are equal. That our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come not from our laws, but from our maker. And that a government of, by, and for the people can endure.”

“They” were just a group of “farmers and lawyers, merchants and soldiers,” in addition to “fishermen, laborers, and craftsmen,” who somehow, for some reason, assembled to sign the Declaration, out of loyalty to a “set of ideals.” Which ideals? Private property? Freedom of speech? Ownership of their own lives? Ideals that they plucked from a tree? And how do those unnamed ideals continue to “light the world,” when statism and collectivism are on the rise around the globe?

Are we all “equal,” or equal before the law? And, before which laws? Objective laws that protect and ensure individual rights, or non-objective laws that rob us of those rights and surrender us to the unpredictable whims of arbitrary authority? And, no, those rights do not come from “our maker,” they come from a recognition of the nature of man as a being of volitional consciousness who must employ reason to survive, establish his goals and pursue them. Rights do not originate with ghosts, majority rule, or pragmatism.

It is the height of narcissism that Obama would steal from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, as well, and change the meaning of that president’s words.

“We are here today not simply to pay tribute to our first patriots but to take up the work that they began.”

What work was that? To expand the scope of government powers so they intrude upon every facet of an individual’s life? Obama taught law, but has he ever read even an infinitesimal fraction of the political thought the Founders read in order to argue for a limited government?

“Only in a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast. An economy that is faltering. Two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely. A planet that is warming from our unsustainable dependence on oil.”

The economy is faltering because of government interventionist policies. The two wars were against the wrong enemies; one can be certain that Obama will be as wrong-headed about those enemies as was Bush. And, no, the planet is not warming because of our dependence on oil, if it is warming at all. And our dependence on oil would be sustainable if we had free markets, if the government were prohibited from making deals with dictatorships, medieval monarchies and other tin pot regimes, and if the government were constrained from having any role in the economy. Economies are not created by governments; they can only be taken over by them, as ours has been incrementally for over a century.

Not all the news media are ignorant of economics or indifferent to reason. One refreshing exception is a brilliantly pungent article that appeared in The Scotsman on January 18th, “New president, same old snake-oil economics,” whose author warns that Obama’s plan to fix the economy by creating 244,000 new government jobs and 459,000 new jobs in “green energy” will only smother an economy already wheezing from federally injected emphysema. Gerald Warner notes:

“Overall, Obama promises more than three million new jobs. Unfortunately, some clever clogs in Congress with a ball-point and the back of an envelope spotted that meant a cost of $275,000 per job. Governments cannot create jobs. All they can do is invent camouflaged welfare programs. Only the market can create jobs; and massive “job” creation in the public sector destroys real employment.”

But Rahm “The Enforcer” Emmanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, once advised that “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” So, to hell with reason and costs and rights. It’s the perfect time to take over everything and everyone. Run Warner’s observation by Emmanuel, and he would growl and probably reach for his baseball bat. Run it by any random news anchor, and he would blink in utter confusion. Run it by Obama, and he would begin sucking his thumb in denial.

In Philadelphia, he decreed:

“What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed. What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry — an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.”

This is an especially significant paragraph. What Obama is stating is that the nation needs a declaration of independence from the Declaration of Independence, that is, from the ideas or ideology that made the Declaration possible, and from “small thinking,” a code term for selfishness. He is willing to draft that new declaration into a manifesto of “responsibility,” that is, the “responsibility“ of Americans to become a selfless zombie population moved by “giving,” “caring,” “service“ to a cause “higher“ than oneself, and “self-sacrifice.”

As for “prejudice” and “bigotry,” his entire campaign was based on just those phenomena, and have nothing to do with the economic “crisis.” He proposes to replace a crucial intellectual priority with a mystical one, that is, with a deference to our “better angels,” which one can only guess is a reference to man’s allegedly “innate” desire to sacrifice and live for others.

“Let’s build a government that is responsible to the people, and accept our own responsibilities as citizens to hold our government accountable.”

It sounds benign, even banal enough. What politician indicted for corruption and serving time hasn’t said the same thing? But, given the statist and collectivist character of Obama’s political and economic program, this statement is a call for the government to be responsible for expanding the welfare state, and a call for citizens to blame the government for not expanding it faster and more widely.

Obama claims that he will make government “accountability” and “responsibility” two of his top priorities. Were this promise not taken so seriously by so many who ought to know better, such hubris would be laughable, given that he, Emmanuel, and so many in his administration are products of the Chicago political machine, given that so many are indictable Clinton era Jacks-in-the-Box, and given that he has nominated for key posts in his cabinet out-and-out socialists, such as Eric Holder as Attorney General and Carol Browner as his energy-environment “czarina.” Obama and his picked wrecking crew are sledgehammer- and shovel-ready to smash and bury what remains of the American republic. There isn’t a person Obama has picked for his cabinet, staff, and other government posts who isn’t already a human Petri dish of corruption ready to cash in on his power. No “idealistic” tyranny in history has ever been inoculated from the accompanying corruption.

Having used the Declaration of Independence as a crib sheet, Obama also wishes to scrap what remains in effect in the Constitution. The Wall Street Journal on October 28th cited his statements during an interview on a Chicago public radio station on September 6, 2001, that, in his opinion, the Constitution hasn’t been emasculated enough.

“Mr. Obama noted that the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren ‘never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society,‘ and ‘to that extent as radical as I think people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical.’

“He also noted that the Court ‘didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it has been interpreted.’”

That is, reports the WSJ, according to Obama, the Court was deficient in leftist “empathy” for whatever party in a criminal or civil case had not stirred the Court’s “feelings.”

“For the American Revolution did not end when British guns fell silent. It was never something to be won only on a battlefield or fulfilled in our founding documents. It was not simply a struggle to break free from empire and declare independence. The American Revolution was — and remains — on ongoing struggle ‘in the minds and hearts of the people’ to live up to our founding creed.”

The term struggle appears in every collectivist manifesto of the 20th century that I know of. Hitler used it, Mao, Lenin, Castro and other dictators used it, not to mention Basque separatists and the IRA, to name but two other murderous movements. It must also occur somewhere in Saul Alinsky’s books on “community activism,” which Obama plans to implement on a national scale. More prominently today, it is employed by Islamic jihadists. It is a euphemism for force and terror, and the password for establishing totalitarianism.

That Obama would employ the term should come as no surprise. Here he suggests that the American Revolution was but a first phase of the collectivization of America. Here he suggests that our “founding documents” were something akin to the progressives’ “living Constitution,” whose words can be interpreted any way one wishes, as long as it is a collectivist, non-objective interpretation. Note that he claims that the Revolution was a “struggle to break free from empire,” which is not true. It was a fight to free men from tyranny. Note also that he ends with a reference to “our founding creed,” as though the political philosophy of the Founders was a religion, and not a social system drawn from their observations of man and reality, that it was a matter of faith, and not of conclusions based on reason and empirical evidence.

“Let’s all of us do our part to rebuild this country.”

Here he pleads for Americans of faith and feeling to join him in a course of action which will not rebuild the country, but guarantee its ultimate destruction.

Gerald Warner of The Scotsman redeemed the reputation of journalism when he began his article on Obama with:

“Tuesday may be regarded by future historians as the beginning of the end for the United States of America….When a politician masquerades as a messiah, be very afraid.”

Why be afraid? Because such a messiah asks one to take his “truths” on faith. Men took Hitler’s “truths” on faith, as they did Lenin’s, Stalin’s, Mao’s, and those of other power-lusters, and observe what such faith wrought. Think of the intellectual honesty and fealty to reason it required to make such a statement, an honesty and fealty all but abandoned by the news media. Warner was able to see through all of Obama’s posturing and rhetoric and named what Obama is to himself and to his worshipping millions. Yet too many Americans are not afraid to submit to his will and to heed his sermons; in fact, they are eager to. Warner correctly predicts the consequences of Obama’s socialist policies, which are the country’s economic collapse and an accelerated decline.

I take the privilege and opportunity on this infamous date to offer an excerpt from Book IV: Empire, of the Sparrowhawk novels, from Chapter 10, Part II, in which Patrick Henry, on a famous day in May, 1765, argues before a hostile House of Burgesses for passage of his Stamp Act Resolves:

“Why are you gentlemen so fearful of that word?” he demanded. “Why have not one of you dared pronounce it? Is it because you believe that if it is not spoken, or its fact or action in any form not acknowledged, it will not be what it is? Well, I will speak it for you and for all this colony to hear!” His arms dropped, but the left rose again, and he shouted, stabbing the air with a fist, “Tyranny! Tyranny! Tyranny!” The arm dropped again. “There! The horror is named!”

And today, its name is also Barack Obama.

Of Piracy and Politics

The Associated Press reported on January 11th what was otherwise an amusing episode in the saga of the Somalian pirate infestation off the east coast of Africa.

“Five of the pirates who hijacked a Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of a $3 million ransom…the day after the bundle of cash was apparently dropped by parachute onto the deck of the ship….The drowned pirates’ boat overturned in rough seas….Abukar Haji, uncle of one of the dead pirates, blamed the naval surveillance for the accident that killed his pirate nephew Saturday.”

“’The boat the pirates were traveling in capsized because it was running at high speed because the pirates were afraid of an attack from the warships patrolling around.’”*

The late pirates needn’t have worried that any one of the American, French, German, British, Indian, or Chinese naval vessels patrolling the area would attack them. The naval coalition’s ineffectual gunboat diplomacy hasn’t made a dent in the scale of piracy in the region. The standing order forbids those vessels from firing on pirate boats unless fired upon by the pirates — and what pirate would be crazy enough to fire on a warship that could blow his dingy or speedboat to smithereens? The article reports that pirates attacked over 100 ships last year and that hundreds of sailors remain hostages. Pirates collected over $30 million in ransoms in 2008, a testament to the moral impracticality of the coalition’s multinational policy.

No government today is going to instruct its navy to reduce the pirates’ hideouts and bases of operation along Somalia’s coastline to rubble and floating debris, because no government is going to risk calls for an immediate ceasefire by the United Nations and negotiations. If it ignores such calls, and presses on with the legitimate goal of exterminating an aggressor or a gang of thugs, it would immediately be labeled the brutal aggressor or insensitive villain. Incredibly, that is exactly what has happened as a result of Israel’s retaliation against Hamas in Gaza. Hamas and the pirates are seen as the “underdogs.” But not all “underdogs” are noble; in history, many of them deserved to be extinguished.

However, to Uncle Abukar, piracy is a legitimate career choice which shouldn’t be put in jeopardy by the threat of retaliatory force, as well as to the author of the AP article, Mohamed Olad Hassan, who penned this revealing observation:

“Piracy is one of the few ways to make money in Somalia.”

Make money? Extortion is a form of theft, and coupled with armed robbery and kidnapping on the high seas, one has a description of piracy. “Making money” is a description of productive, wealth-creating work. But Uncle Abukar and Mr. Hassan exhibit the same grasp of the economics and morality of looters as that of the pirates, outgoing president George W. Bush, president-elect Barack Obama, and Congress. The extortionate, unmitigated looting of the private sector of the economy by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulsen and his ilk in Congress and the White House in the so-called “bailout” differs from the Somalian pirates’ looting only in scale. The pirates “made” $30 million. The federal government has “made” trillions and stands to “make” trillions more if Obama pushes his “stimulus” program of public works and subsidies through Congress.

The government can “make” money only by stealing it. Like the pirates, it can “make” that money only by employing physical force or the threat of it. It can steal it directly with coercive tax collection, or indirectly through inflation. In the next administration, we will experience large doses of both methods.

President-elect Obama, when he takes the oath of office on January 20th, will swear to protect the United States and uphold the Constitution. But as he made clear throughout his campaign, and has made clear in a number of television interviews and at press conferences since winning the election, he promises to do no such thing. Instead, he has promised to continue the federal government’s policy of “saving” the country by looting the productive private sector of wealth and manpower in a program that will make his hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, look like a rank amateur. He will, with Congress’s help, add over a trillion dollars to the over trillion dollars rung up by the Bush administration. Hypothetically, this represents a mortgage on the lives of two or three unborn generations. Hypothetically, because the economy and the country will collapse long before our elective oligarchy and its bureaucratic minions present impoverished Americans with the tax bill.

The point here is deviously simple: The statist economics of Obama, his fiscal appointees, Bush, and virtually every government economist is no more advanced or “sophisticated” than that of the Somalia pirates, or of the cargo cultists of the South Pacific. Wealth exists. It came into existence somehow — somehow, because Obama and fellow politicians and bureaucrats, being career public “servants,” do not have a first-hand acquaintance with productive work. Wealth, savings, plans, futures, investments all can be magically taken from one person and given to another (redistributed), and a moral end will have been achieved. And when all the wealth, savings, plans, futures and investments have been consumed by the non-producing parasites, and all the new environmental and tax policies have made it impossible for producers to replace them, what then? Neither Obama nor his fiscal appointees can think that far in advance. What is unthinkable to them is that the government is the cause of whatever economic crisis they wish to solve. Intentions, not facts, govern their statements and actions.

What of those who have been robbed or ruined by such intentions? It is Obama’s explicit policy that they should endure their involuntary sacrifices as a matter of duty and in the name of “change.” As he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC last Sunday: “Everybody is going to have to give, everybody is going to have to have some skin in the game.”

This is gangster talk. Yet our slobbering, fawning news media accepts it and the facetious thinking behind it with wide-eyed rapture. Even when this faux-naif back-pedals on his promises, the news media glosses over it with forgiveness or ignorance. When he hedges on an issue, they grin in expectation of some wonderful surprise he has in store. Obama won’t need a Department of Disinformation or an Orwellian Ministry of Truth to propagate his economic illiteracy and deceptions. He has the worshipping news media in his pocket willing to wait on his every word.

Well, Adolf Hitler said the same thing when he nationalized Germany’s economy in much the same fashion that Bush has nationalized America‘s. Bush is to Herbert Hoover as Obama is to FDR. Hoover attempted to save “free enterprise” by regulating it, subsidizing failed industries and businesses, and erecting tariff walls to “encourage“ it. Every president since then has attempted to “fine tune” or “manage” the economy, discounting or ignoring the element of volition in men when they make choices. Some liberal and conservative pundits claim that Bush abandoned his “free market” principles when he pressured Congress to approve the “bailout” of the auto industry, oblivious to the fact that Bush professed no such principles.

Another clue to Obama’s intentions are the character of his cabinet and staff and the character of his appointees to it. To Obama, it is a “dream team”; for anyone who has wealth to confiscate or freedom to abridge, it is a nightmarish wrecking crew. The cabinet is about as far-left as was Saul Alinsky, the real life Ellsworth Toohey (the collectivist villain in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead) who propounded “community activism” and whose doctrines and methods Obama swallowed whole.

There is Larry Summers, nominated to be head of Obama’s National Economic Council, and whose redistributionist philosophy is as primitive as a Somalian pirate’s.

There is Timothy Geithner, currently head of the New York Federal Reserve, and nominated to be Secretary of the Treasury, who has confessed ignorance of why companies fail (his mantra: Don’t blame government interventionist policies, we had nothing to do with it!). It is not so ironic that he will also be boss of the Internal Revenue Service, and that at his confirmation hearings it was revealed that he failed to file tax returns for several years. He said he was “sorry,” and the Senate let him off the hook. For the average taxpayer, however, being “sorry” or having made an “honest mistake” is never good enough to the IRS. But then, Congress is now just Obama’s extended Chicago corruption “machine.”

There is Rahm Emanuel, the new chief of staff, who has all the charisma and charm of Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s “Enforcer” and who is a career power-luster (and enemy of the Second Amendment). He will be in charge of ensuring that all of Obama’s cabinet and staff stay in line, and in particular that none of them has ever owned or even touched a gun. After all, Obama wants to make sure that no one can fight or talk back, inside or outside of the White House. As the magazine America’s First Freedom reported in January:

Time magazine noted Emanuel’s reputation as a ’profane, hyperactive attack dog.’ His tactics and style are fully consistent with the world of Chicago machine politics, from which he and Obama sprung.”

One can imagine that Emanuel will equip his office with a baseball bat.

There is Eric Holder, Obama’s choice for Attorney General, who assured listeners at a convention of the American Constitution Society last summer that Obama would win the election and that the U.S.. would then be “run by progressives” — that is, by socialists. Or, by national socialists, if you will. The American Constitution Society is a left-wing organization founded to counter the influence of The Federalist Society, and its goal is to turn the absolute principles of the Constitution into positivist mush. That is, the Constitution can be whatever the collectivist of the moment wishes it to be. Holder, according to a Front Page Magazine article of December 18, was a member of the ACS Board of Advisors. Front Page cites a New York Times article of December 11 which observed that Holder and the Obama team “will turn to ACS members to fill subcabinet positions and judgeships.”

The balance of Obama’s designated cabinet and appointees is comprised of recycled Clinton-era officeholders or new unknowns who will work with him and Congress to legislate socialized medicine, radical environmentalism, volunteerism (e.g., his promise of a $4,000 college tuition “credit” to high school and college students who perform 100 hours a year of community service), and in creating new pork barrel jobs to “repair the infrastructure.” Shades of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Obama pledged during the campaign to fight Congressional earmarks. What the news media hasn’t realized — or perhaps doesn’t want to know, because that would put a brake on the giddiness — is that his whole domestic program is one mammoth earmark.

As for Obama’s foreign policy, his choice of Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State, that says it all. Doubtless she will strive to top Condoleezza Rice’s pragmatist foreign policy.

It is in the cards that his proposed economic policies will bankrupt the nation and lead to economic havoc. That will be the signal to call for totalitarian measures to bring “discipline“ to the anarchy. One can predict with certainty that Obama’s speedboat of controls, spending and nascent fascism will capsize in the rough seas of reality, and take its occupants and their ransom money with it. And a good portion of the country.

And then perhaps enough non-docile Americans will learn the hard way and agree with Ayn Rand that a welfare state will always lead to totalitarianism, and decide to do something about it.

A Singular Ambition

A refreshing antidote to Nock’s Our Enemy, the State is John Blundell‘s Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady (New York: Algora Publishing, 2008). For a time, as Prime Minister of Great Britain, Thatcher not only retarded the progress of statism but reversed its course. There certainly was nothing fatalistic in her or in her political career, and everything inspiring and encouraging. Blundell, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, has known Thatcher since 1970 and has written a personal portrait of her (“a very personal interpretation of a very special life”), as opposed to an exhaustive biography and scholarly analysis of her life and politics. (He provides two pages of “further reading” on Thatcher at the end of his biography, listing books, essays, and articles.)

Britain, by the time Thatcher became Prime Minister, had reached exactly the kind of political and economic nadir forecast by Nock when the State assumed coercive and near total sovereignty over the lives and fortunes of its citizens, otherwise known as “society.” Presumably, by Nock’s formula, the country should have descended into total bankruptcy, anarchy, and extinction. “There is no such thing as Society,” she once remarked. “There are only individual men and women and there are families.” Nock would have agreed with her, but while he condemned most individuals for harboring what he called an “invincible ignorance,” Thatcher was certain that most people would listen to clear reason when their liberty was at stake, and that those who harbored a willful ignorance were in the minority and beyond reclamation (such as Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers).

When she took office in 1979, the willfully ignorant in and out of office had brought the country to the brink of collapse. Mineworkers were running amok with strikes, government-fueled inflation was soaring, industrial production was plummeting, and nationalized industries such as steel, aerospace, and telecommunications were deficit ridden, congenital beggars for more government subsidies.

“From being a dominant trading nation Britain’s presence on world markets had shriveled. The U.K. accounted for 20 per cent of world trade in manufactures in 1955 but only 10 percent by 1979. It had exported 33 percent of the world’s cars in 1955. That was down to 3 per cent by 1979. Under the socialism of both parties the British economy was atrophying.”

The “lame duck” Labourite Prime Minister James Callaghan was reluctant to take a principled stand on any of the issues. Without going into the complexities of the British election process and British party machinations, Thatcher won the General Election, beating party rival (and consummate compromiser) Ted Heath and replacing Callaghan at 10 Downing Street. She won because she appealed to the self-interest of the electorate in terms of freedom and the idea that hard work deserved rewards that were not siphoned off by “society“ or other parasites, whether they were welfare mothers living in council flats (government housing) or Rolls Royce or British Petroleum. She promised to free people from the inherently inefficient, wealth-consuming socialist controls that were reducing the standard of living and inculcating a fatal miasma of hopelessness, as well as a militant sanctimoniousness in those dependent on State patronization.

In short, although she (and Mr. Blundell) might not put it this way, she won because she appealed to the desperate yearning of productive men to be left alone to live their lives without having to become slaves to society or to the State. I believe she won more for psychological rather than economic or ideological reasons. That portion of the British electorate which sent her to 10 Downing Street confounded Nock’s determinism, because it did not want to be “taken care of” and because it saw through the sham of government coercion in the name of “democracy” and “popular sovereignty.”

As far back as 1975, when she was a leader of the Conservative opposition party, she was not interested in offering the electorate or her party a paltry soupçon of freedom. Her enemy was the State, and her singular ambition was to dismantle as much of it as possible. Blundell relates that her speech to a party conference:

“…was a foot-stomping success as she attacked socialism as the arch enemy of freedom and presented a principled conservatism rooted in private property, markets, liberty, smaller governments, choice, and the rule of law.” The 3,000 or so constituency loved it — what a change after decades of lukewarm government paternalism, easily labeled socialism, dressed up as middle-of-the-road conservatism.”

Blundell continues, ironically describing the political scenario that has come to pass in 2009 America:

“Margaret Thatcher had three problems with the middle of the road. First, you get run over by traffic from both sides. Second, as the Labour Party moved to the left, so the middle moved with it. Third, Labour tended to introduce new entitlements which were hard to unpick, so there was a ratchet moving the political scenery ever closer to the left ever closer to her much hated Moscow and even further from her much loved USA.”

Substitute the Democratic Party and Barack Obama for Labour, and the compromising, middle of the road Republican Party for the pre-Thatcher British Conservatives, and one has a fairly accurate American political parallel. Unfortunately, America has had no articulate political leader the stature of Thatcher since Barry Goldwater. (I do not include Ronald Reagan here; while his defense policies may have precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union, he was the first major president to inject religion into politics.) To most politicians, the State is not your enemy, but your friend and savior. Republican candidate John McCain was simply a shot of the mulled wine of demi-fascism, as opposed to Obama’s whiskey neat of a command, socialist economy.

During her tenure as Prime Minister, Thatcher embarked on a bold and successful program of denationalizing industries, privatizing many “social services” presumed to be the natural venue of government (such as garbage collection), and reducing the scale of government-built and subsidized housing by offering tenants the chance to buy homes and apartments.

Blundell features a chart which shows that in 1914, 90% of Britons lived in private homes or flats and only 1% in “public” housing. By 1979, thanks to successive governments “socializing” the housing stock, only 10% lived in private rentals, 53% in private homes, and 37% in “council” housing. By 1997, 12% lived in private rental units, 71% in private homes, and only 17% in council housing. Thatcher apparently failed to make any progress in dismantling Britain’s socialist National Health Service and the Royal Mail. But, she was successful in reducing Britain’s notoriously confiscatory income tax rates. She also suspended currency exchange controls, allowing Britons to travel overseas with more than $50 in their pockets. By setting a political and ideological precedent, Thatcher’s 1981 budget became a norm which even socialists applauded:

“The top tax rates had been brought down from 83% on earned income and 98% on so-called ‘unearned’ to 60%, and then 40%, still high, but a huge drop. Even leftists today acknowledge the need for a vibrant private sector and low taxes to encourage it.”

(“The better to eat you,” said the collectivist wolf to privatized Little Red Riding Hood, which is a subject Mr. Blundell might have pursued, but it can wait until another day.)

“The U.K. abandoned all price controls. Dividend controls were scrapped. Limits on hire purchase were abandoned. Office Development Permits ceased. So did Industrial Development Certificates. Centralized pay controls ended.”

Blundell narrates this whole astonishing episode of the recovery of liberty through consistent privatization in the economy, demonstrating what can be accomplished through an unswerving dedication to liberty and what cannot be accomplished by middle-of-the-roaders and compromisers.

Given the sobriquet of “The Iron Lady” by one of her political enemies, Thatcher took pride in the name and lived up to it when Argentina invaded the British owned Falkland Islands in April 1982. While the world looked on in unbelieving horror, Britain sent a fleet to the South Atlantic and reclaimed the Falklands after a brief war. The conflict was waged because the Islands’ residents wished to remain British and under British law, and not come under the thumb of Argentine law or the military junta that ruled the country then. Instead of agonizing over possible world disapproval of a unilateral military response to the aggression, she immediately sent her high command into action. Compare that policy with President George Bush’s interminable and disgraceful quest for world approval to respond to the attacks on America on 9/11.

Many of Thatcher’s accomplishments in Britain have been undone by her successors, but especially by the European Union. Initially, earlier in her career, she was warm to the idea of a Europe united by control- and tariff-free borders. But that enthusiasm soured when the EU began to assume the character of an arrogant, ungainly bureaucratic monster. She did not think Britons’ pockets should be picked or their actions proscribed by unelected placeholders in Brussels, nor did she think that Britain’s sovereignty should be eroded by EU laws and regulations, which more or less are reducing Britain (as well as other EU members) to the status of a client state beholden to a patron state.

Now out of office, and free to speak her mind as never before on the subject, Thatcher, writes Blundell, “was openly asking the applicant countries [to EU membership] not to join and declared that the U.K. needed either to renegotiate its terms of membership or simply withdraw.”

In 2006 she said in a speech in Washington, D.C.:

“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.”

In chapter 20, “Dealing with Brussels,” Blundell paints a grim picture of the prospect of total EU dominance over Britain. “But as the EU went from a loose trading model toward federalism she [Thatcher] became increasingly uneasy,” he writes. He probably did not wish to sound chauvinistic, so I am free to say here that, going by the EU’s unceasing campaign over the decades to persuade Britain to submit to Brussels, the advocates of the EU have always envied and hated Britain, and have always wished to knock it down to manageable size, to humble it, and to eat it alive, simply because it was freer and “fatter“ than any other European nation. I include in those movers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, past and present Prime Ministers, who are on record of having conspired to bypass the “popular sovereignty” of Britons by making concessions to the EU on their own advice. (The EU’s partner in the campaign to compel Britain and the West to submit is Islam, but that is another drooling, omnivorous beast altogether.)

Blundell and Margaret Thatcher may not dare call it treason; I do. After all, the same envy and hatred exists in many American multiculturalists and American politicians, who wish to see the U.S. submit to U.N. and European law. They, too, hanker to see it eaten alive in the name of global amity.

I have two bones to pick with Blundell, one of them minor, the other major. The first concerns usage of the term democracy throughout his book to describe or refer to countries whose governments respect individual rights, private property, freedom of the press, the rule of law, and so on. The term is not synonymous with republic. Democracy means literally mob rule, in which rights may be granted or abolished at the whim of a majority. Republic, as it has been used in the past, implies a nation that meets some or all of the criteria of freedom. A sedulous commitment to the meanings of these definitions is needed if an advocate of freedom does not wish to confuse his auditors or the reading public. But the thoughtless employment of democracy is evidence of a pandemic disease in semantics. Exactitude matters; it is the antidote to lumpy thinking.

The second bone is that Blundell does not discuss the “handover” of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in July 1997. One cannot account for Thatcher’s lapse in this regard. It was the predecessor government that initiated talks with Red China about the future of Hong Kong in 1979, two months before she won the premiership in May (her party lost the election in 1990). Hong Kong was happily a Crown colony, and its dazzling prosperity a reproach to impoverished Mainland China and its communist dictatorship. Thatcher even flew to Peking in September 1983 to discuss the future of the colony. She hated the communist dictatorship of the Soviet Union, but apparently was not so discriminating about the one that ruled China.

The original issue was the status of the New Territories on the mainland per se, for which Britain had signed a 99-year lease with the Qing Dynasty. The leaders in Red China, however, insisted that any “handover” must include Hong Kong island and Kowloon, for which Britain had signed treaties of perpetuity with the Chinese monarchy. In any event, Britain, and presumably Thatcher, caved and endorsed the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984-1985 ceding all of Hong Kong to Red China, to go into effect in 1997.

I noted in a suspense novel long ago (Whisper the Guns, completed 1977, published by the Atlantean Press 1992) that “Peking would destroy Hong Kong….Or Hong Kong would destroy Peking.” An IEA editorial director predicted in 1980 that “China will go capitalist. Soviet Russia will not survive the century. Labour as we know it will never rule again.” He was right about Soviet Russia, but Labour is in power again, and Russia is governed by the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin instead of the “proletariat.” China never went “capitalist,” but fascist, since much of the nominally communist party leadership has invested stakes in enterprises that are “private” in name only. (We see the same phenomenon happening in the U.S., with the federal government’s “bailout” program, in which it has bought controlling stakes in key companies.)

Hong Kong now exists in a political purgatory. I am reminded by this whole sorry episode of two of Ayn Rand’s rules on compromise: 1) In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins; 2) In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.

Red China won. Britain was under no moral obligation to deal with a liberty-hating dictatorship responsible for the murder of millions, not to mention its regular brutal suppressions symbolized by Tiananmen Square in 1989, religious persecutions, and its policing of the Internet today. Further, the current regime was not a signatory to the treaties of the 19th century, and this should have been stated from the very beginning. It remains a dictatorship today, an outlaw government as evil as Iran’s theocracy and Saudi Arabia’s medieval monarchy, propped up by Western pragmatism.

But, as a refutation of Albert Jay Nock’s fatalism, not to mention of the doctrinaire collectivism of various schools, John Blundell’s compact biography of Margaret Thatcher demonstrates how a nation can, for a time at least, reclaim itself from its past follies, and give those in it who champion a moral basis of capitalism time to marshal their courage, arguments and numbers.

After all, freedom isn’t just a matter of privatization.

How to Throw the Fight for Freedom

The difference between pessimism and fatalism is that the first term reflects a realistic, fact-based appraisal of the outcome of a conflict between ideas, movements or men. It does not rule out the eventual triumph of the good. The second term concedes — too often based on an invalid premise — the inevitable victory of one party of a conflict and the dismal defeat of its opponent. A fatalistic premise promotes the futility of fighting for the good and ensures its defeat.

Albert Jay Nock (1870-1945), American essayist and social critic, considered a “grand old man” of libertarianism, was later in his life deemed a pessimist by both his friends and enemies, when in reality he was a fatalist. Mixed in with his many piquant and accurate observations on history and politics is a bitter surrender to a species of determinism — which I would call a secular version of original sin — one which governed his main political thesis and spared him the task of becoming an articulate and powerfully eloquent advocate of freedom. That is, while he advocated freedom, individualism and limited government that would protect life, liberty and property (through what he called “negative intervention“), he did not believe they were sustainable in man, and, in most circumstances, not even desirable by him once he saw a way of securing his existence via political or coercive means (via what he called “positive intervention”).

He received what was in the late 19th century a “classical” education, mastering Latin and Greek, history, philosophy and literature, and emerged from his schooling with an impressive and invaluable fund of knowledge. Later in his life he taught at Bard College and the University of Virginia. He became an Episcopalian priest and served in several different parishes, but left the church in 1909. It could be argued that his determinism was rooted in the religious notion of original sin. Another perspective is that his political ideas were inextricably founded on what Ayn Rand would call a malevolent universe premise.

He described himself as a philosophical anarchist, oblivious to the fact that to call one’s self such is to confess that one has eschewed philosophy altogether, although the corpus of his work does represent a philosophy, one colored by a cloying union of skepticism and determinism. He wrote over twenty books, his most famous ones being Our Enemy, the State (1935) and Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943). After his death, his works faded into obscurity, until rediscovered and promulgated by conservatives and libertarians later in the 20th century.

This was a logical adoption; both camps disdain the necessity of a comprehensive philosophy of reason, and treat such concepts as freedom and liberty as self-evident concretes not requiring metaphysical validation or a foundation. Conservatives remain clueless or hostile to a morality founded on a rational, non-religious view of the nature of man. Libertarians remain hostile to a non-subjectivist view of the nature of man as a being of volitional consciousness who must be consistently rational in his mind and actions in order to survive and flourish.

Reading especially Nock’s Our Enemy, the State, one has the disquieting sense that one is imbibing a libertarian rendition of Karl Marx’s dialectical materialism, that is, an autonomous force that pits freedom-valuing men against freedom-evading men, and that, given the timbre of Nock’s fatalistic view of man, the “original sin” of favoring the investment of the least amount of effort over genuinely productive work, the freedom-evaders are always certain to triumph. They will always find a way to seize control of a limited government and transform it into a coercive, looting “State” (in the meantime persuading a duped, dumbed-down populace that it is an expression of “popular sovereignty” or a manifestation of “democracy“). Nowhere in this work does one encounter the term volition.

Evidence of this absence can be seen in one statement at the beginning of Chapter 5, “Politics and Other Fetiches”:

It is a commonplace that the persistence of an institution is due solely to the state of mind that prevails towards it, the set of terms in which men habitually think about it….At one time, a certain set of terms regarding man’s place in nature gave organized Christianity the power largely to control men’s consciences and direct their conduct; and this power dwindled to the point of disappearance, for no other reason than that men generally stopped thinking in those terms.”

Why did men cease thinking that the Church was the centerpiece of their lives? Nock does not give a clue, neither in that chapter nor elsewhere in his book. It just happened. Never mind the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment, eras of major philosophical conflicts in which men struggled to be set free from the tyranny of a politically powerful Church to pursue their lives, and then against the fiat power of secular governments. It just happened. They were mere puppets of a Hegelian dialectical Absolute Spirit.

And not only did it “just happen,” but almost immediately what Nock calls the “feudal-state” began to be supplanted by the “merchant-state,” exemplified, he writes, by the British model. That is, when men were free to embark on trade, commerce, and manufacturing, with little or no leave from a monarch, most of them looked to the State to preserve and sanctify by lawful monopoly their positions in those realms. This was certainly the case with the mercantilist system, from which America’s Founders wish to free themselves.

Nock claims that most of the Founders, however, wished to exercise that political power themselves, and quickly abandoned the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence once the break with the mother country was militarily secured at Yorktown, once independence had been won from the Crown. The Constitution, he avers, was a consequence of that abandonment. Nowhere in his book is that position more evident than in Chapter 4, “Land Monopoly and American Independence.” And nowhere does he mention the Bill of Rights, intended to restrict the federal government’s actions to protecting one’s freedom and property (and without which the Constitution would never have been ratified). This chapter could well have been written from the perspective of Marx, Engels, and other collectivist theoreticians.

“It was said at the time, I believe, that the actual causes of the colonial revolution of 1776 would never be known. The causes assigned by our schoolbooks may be dismissed as trivial; the various partisan and propagandist views of that struggle and its origins may be put down as incompetent.”

That position, I contend, is evidence of Nock’s disparagement of the rise and rule of reason in the pre-Revolutionary period, and is the necessarily jaded outlook of someone who has abandoned philosophy. Ideas have no consequences, evil is autonomously potent and will always trump the good. The Constitutional Convention, he claims, was more or less a conspiracy of most of its delegates:

“The task of the delegates was precisely analogous to that of the earlier architects who had designed the structure of the British merchant-state, with its system of economics, politics and judicial control; they had to contrive something that could pass muster as showing a good semblance of popular sovereignty, without the reality.”

And, in Chapter 5:

“Nowhere in the history of the constitutional period do we find the faintest suggestion of the Declaration’s doctrine of natural rights, and we find its doctrine of popular sovereignty not only continuing in abeyance, but constitutionally stopped from ever reappearing. Nowhere do we find a trace of the Declaration’s theory of government; on the contrary, we find it expressly repudiated. The new political mechanism was a faithful replica of the old disestablished British model….”

That is, Nock writes, the Constitution was meant to pay lip-service to the sanctity of life, liberty and property, while at the same time establish a State that would slyly rob individuals of them by means of providing access to political power to anyone pragmatic and unscrupulous enough to seek it. In short, the Constitution, with its checks and balances and all its pre-Civil War articles and amendments, was a fraud, a fabrication the result of a “gentlemen’s agreement” to admit power and exclude or diminish freedom. This position leaves one wondering if Nock, who was widely read in so many subjects, had ever perused the Federalist and anti-Federalist papers, and saw that the Constitution was a product of a passionately fought intellectual contest.

It is true, as his defenders state, that Nock valued individual rights and that he wrote that the State had no natural right to enact “positive interventions” on individuals, or to implement statism. But, his deterministic perspective would discourage his vaunted “Remnant” of anti-statists or anti-collectivists. I would judge Albert Jay Nock to be in the first rank of thinkers who have done more damage to the cause of liberty than good. If one doubts my charge of his enervating fatalism, here is his own appraisal of Our Enemy, the State:

“I would be the first to acknowledge that no results of the kind which we agree to call practical could accrue to the credit of a book of this order, were it a hundred times as cogent as this one — no results, that is, that would in the least retard the State’s progress in self-aggrandizement and thus modify the consequences of the State’s course.”

How can one hope to win the fight for freedom, when one concedes defeat by stating that it would be futile to even face the enemy? This is what neither Thomas Jefferson (a particular hero of Nock’s) nor the other Founders thought should be a practical policy when they pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.

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