The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: June 2012

The Supreme Court’s “Declaratory Act”

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, wrote the majority opinion upholding the alleged constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare. Obamacare will compel, under penalty of a monetary payment, all Americans to purchase health insurance. This monetary penalty was never intended by the authors of the ACA to be a revenue-raising impost. It was never intended to be a tax, either, although the Internal Revenue Service was appointed the enforcer of the law and collector of the penalty. Further, proponents of Obamacare argued that Congress had the power to enforce compliance with the law under the Commerce clause of the Constitution, which bestows on Congress the power to “regulate interstate commerce.”

Opponents of the law have argued that Congress does not have the power to force individuals to engage in such commerce. During initial arguments before the Court, the Court rebutted this argument to some extent, dismissing the Solicitor General’s position that an absence from such commerce is no excuse for not complying with the mandates of Obamacare. The “individual mandate” – or the feature of force – became the bête noir of Obamacare.

Chief Justice Roberts, however, side-stepped the whole issue and, as some commentators have observed, “rewrote” the punitive feature of the individual mandate and called it a “tax,” arguing that such a tax is not outside the bounds of Congressional power. In that single act, Chief Justice Roberts, in an act of evasion and moral cowardice, conferred upon Congress the power and authority to tax every human action and commodity.

Violating the Aristotelian law that a thing cannot be A and non-A at the same time, Roberts wrote that the punitive penalty can be treated as a tax. Worse, the Constitution can limit Congress’s powers, and expand them at the same time, as well. He did not recognize the Commerce clause argument advocating compulsory engagement in the commerce of insurance. He recognized, however, Congress’s power to enslave and destroy.

The Affordable Care Act is constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part. The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause. That Clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage in it. In this case, however, it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax. (p. 58)

But many pages before Roberts’ lop-sided logic, he begins with this reductio ad absurdum gem.

The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers. (p. 3, Italics mine)

So, rather than undermine the principle behind the Commerce Clause (which does not grant Congress the power to “regulate” business in terms of controlling it, but rather to bring objective law to chaos), Roberts elects to undermine the principle of limited and enumerated powers that constrain Congress.

This opinion is unprecedented in the Court’s annals, because it does and does not uphold Obamacare. In his opinion, Roberts wrote, with the pouting, moral fervor of a scold, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

Charles Krauthammer wrote in his Washington Post column, “Why Roberts did it“:

How to reconcile the two imperatives — one philosophical and the other institutional? Assign yourself the task of writing the majority opinion. Find the ultimate finesse that manages to uphold the law, but only on the most narrow of grounds — interpreting the individual mandate as merely a tax, something generally within the power of Congress.

Result? The law stands, thus obviating any charge that a partisan court overturned duly passed legislation. And yet at the same time the commerce clause is reined in. By denying that it could justify the imposition of an individual mandate, Roberts draws the line against the inexorable decades-old expansion of congressional power under the commerce clause fig leaf.

Law upheld, Supreme Court’s reputation for neutrality maintained. Commerce clause contained, constitutional principle of enumerated powers reaffirmed.

I do not think the advocates and supporters of Obamacare will much mind that Roberts, with the flick of his pen and a leap in logic, dubbed the penalty a tax. After all, the penalty and the tax will accomplish the same results.

Let us not say that Roberts’s actions are, in a political context, unprecedented. There are historical precedents. We must go back to the pre-Revolutionary period to find them. The Proclamation of 1763, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Declaratory Act of 1766.

The Proclamation of 1763, on occasion of Britain’s victory in defeating the French for possession of North America, was issued under the name of George III. It forbad all British colonials from escaping the mercantilist, regulatory and taxing authority of the Crown by crossing into the transmontane, or the Western wilderness beyond the mountain range from the settled colonies on the Eastern seaboard, and establishing new settlements. That was the overture.

In 1765, to defray the costs of the French and Indian War, and to fund the costs of maintaining a standing army in the colonies as well as maritime courts and a civilian bureaucracy to enforce Crown law, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which imposed a tax, payable in Crown silver only, on most court and legal documents, newspapers, playing cards, and even university degrees. The pseudo-Solons of the Crown had observed two things: That colonials were insatiable readers, and the most litigious subjects in the Empire.

The colonials revolted against the Stamp Tax. Without going into details, except for a paltry amount collected in Georgia, the Stamp tax was a famous failure, the Crown not collecting a penny of the tax, and seeing its Stamp Tax collectors hounded from their royally appointed sinecures. The turmoil caused Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act exactly one year later, in 1766, rather than allow it to stand and exacerbate hostility towards the mother country. The American colonials celebrated their victory.

Most did not pay attention to the companion legislation that accompanied repeal, The Declaratory Act, which was:

AN ACT for the better securing the dependency of his Majesty’s dominions in America upon the crown and parliament of Great Britain.

WHEREAS several of the houses of representatives in his Majesty’s colonies and plantations in America, have of late, against law, claimed to themselves, or to the general assemblies of the same, the sole and exclusive right of imposing duties and taxes upon his Majesty’s subjects in the said colonies and plantations; and have, in pursuance of such claim, passed certain votes, resolutions, and orders, derogatory to the legislative authority of parliament, and inconsistent with the dependency of the said colonies and plantations upon the crown of Great Britain: … be it declared …,

That the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be. subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain; and that the King’s majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons of Great Britain, in parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever….

Note the stress on dependency. Congress wishes Americans to become dependent on it for every conceivable human action and relationship, in “all cases whatsoever” – by edict and fiat. There is no difference between Parliament’s intentions and Congress’s.

I have noted in past columns that Mitt Romney, the de facto Republican candidate for President, is no antidote to either Obama, Obamacare, or statism. He is a statist. Chief Justice Roberts (likely under some threat from the White House) has sanctioned the humongous expansion of federal power, aside from upholding the ACA. Romney is no friend of freedom, either. He signed MassachusettsCare into law, after all, and that was a miniature template for Obamacare.

Either way, Americans have just been put on notice that they are wards of the state. Two things should alarm Americans: Roberts’s apparent last minute switch from a majority that would have struck down Obamacare (obviously a sign of White House arm-twisting, or Capone-style persuasion), and the expansion of federal tax-and-punish powers. Remember, the “tax” that’s not a “tax” feature of the ACA is not a revenue-raising one, but a punitive one.

That is the hallmark of “conservatives” – to seek a “middle ground” that seems apolitical and non-partisan. That is, to uphold no principles at all, except that of “me-too.” After all, we would not want to challenge the altruist nature of Obamacare, would we? We’re nice guys at heart, just like the collectivists. And if it turns out to be a pernicious law, well, you people asked for it. It’s not for a Chief Justice to judge.

Well, no we didn’t ask for it. It was passed over the raucous and highly visible and exacerbated hostility of the Americans on whom the burden would fall.

The Court has never consistently upheld the Constitution, not in its entire history. The role of the Chief Justice, however, is not to evade judgment of an outrageous, looting, confiscatory law and blame the electorate for voting for the creatures who passed it. He and his colleagues are supposed to say: “This is evil, this violates individual rights, this is villainous and tyrannical, and we’re declaring it unconstitutional.” We are not paying the Chief Justice to collect a sumptuous salary and enjoy perks we can’t afford. (Remember, ALL federal employees are exempted from ALL features and stipulations of Obamacare, as well as ALL members of Congress.) We are paying him to pass judgment on legislation. Sure, he can blame some of the electorate for voting the creatures from the Black Lagoon into office, but that is not his job, to place blame (except perhaps in an aside or a footnote to an opinion) and pass the buck. That feature of Roberts’s opinion is, I think, unprecedented in the Court’s annals. How low can you get?

Republicans, as “conservatives,” consciously wish to “conserve” the status quo, which can mean any state of affairs in any point in time, as long as it means the welfare state, entitlements, subsidies, tens of thousands of regulations, all kinds of taxes and tariffs, central banking, and so on. Perhaps the correct term should be “preserve.” Now, that would make an appropriate designation of most Republicans: the Preservatives.

Seriously, however, the Conservatives cannot challenge the Left in any fundamental way, because they share the same morality, which is altruism. All they can say to the Democrats and Progressives, with the indignation of a priggish scold, is “Not so fast!” The Right and the Left agree on the ends; the means and speed are open to bipartisan negotiation. That has been the history of Congress and the Executive Branch since the late 19th century.

Parliament meant what it said when it affirmed legislative and taxing authority over the American colonies. Beginning in 1764, Parliament passed over two dozen Acts to make the colonies dependent on Britain for its trade and sustenance. It made no finicky distinctions between taxes and penalties, between commerce and non-commerce.

President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrats meant what they said when they asserted legislative authority over Americans’ lives, health and fortunes. They rammed Obamacare through Congress, blithely indifferent to or ignorant of Congress’s enumerated powers. Little could they know that Chief Justice John Roberts would affirm their tyranny with his own Declaratory Act.

And we all know what the original Declaratory Act led to.

Well, not all. Congress is oblivious. And so is Chief Justice John Roberts.

It can happen again.

Ludwig von Mises’s Omnipotent Government: A Primer on Statism

Given today’s political circumstances, in which this country, in November, will either reject the boisterous, crude, arrogant statism of the current administration in favor of one that will consume the country at a less gluttonous rate (thus allowing champions of freedom to marshal their intellectual and political forces), or submit to a suicidal sanctioning of its demise, I thought it would be timely to revisit a classic that over half a century ago projected the consequences of omnivorous statism, Ludwig von Mises’s Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War.

Originally published by Yale University Press in 1944, Omnipotent Government offers an airtight negative prognosis of nations that elect the statist route to imagined security, prosperity, and happiness by granting governments the incremental and ultimately wholesale authority over virtually every possible human action and condition. The principal subject of Omnipotent Government is Nazi Germany and the fallacies surrounding its origins and pretensions, however, the principles by which von Mises discusses them are eminently applicable to any nation. Von Mises makes this clear at the very beginning:

The distinctive mark of Nazism is not socialism or totalitarianism or nationalism. In all nations today the “progressives” are eager to substitute socialism for capitalism. While fighting German aggressors Great Britain and the United States are, step by step, adopting the German pattern of socialism. Public opinion in both countries is fully convinced that government all-round control of business is inevitable in time of war, and many eminent politicians and millions of voters are firmly resolved to keep socialism after the war as a permanent new social order. (Introduction, p. 1

Why does von Mises stress capitalism and not “liberty” or “freedom”? Because capitalism is the vehicle that makes liberty and freedom possible in man’s existence. Ayn Rand provided a more specific definition of capitalism than does von Mises:

Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. (“What Is Capitalism?” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 19)

Rand does not state that capitalism is merely an economic system, as von Mises implies. She says that it is primarily a social system in which individual rights are recognized, protected, and upheld. The role of government is to protect and uphold those rights through its monopoly on retaliatory force. Individual rights, wrote Rand elsewhere, originate and are based on man’s nature as a being who must think to survive and is responsible for his own life and happiness. He can survive and pursue his happiness with his fellow men only if he respects these conditions in others, and others respect them in him. In a society of individual rights, force is banished from all human relations. Only the government may initiate force in the pursuit and prosecution of individuals who resort to force (or to its cousin of indirect force, fraud).

Rand elucidates on the nature of capitalism:

The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice. (“What is Capitalism,” p. 20)

Consequently, I have two major objections to von Mises’s defense of capitalism: One is that he continually justifies capitalism as a means to satisfy the wants of “consumers,” and portrays capitalists as mere “servants” of “consumers.” The other is that nowhere in Omnipotent Government does the term trade occur (at least, I didn’t spot one). This is not merely an issue of semantics, but a revealing and dangerous premise that allows conservative defenders of capitalism to claim that it is fundamentally altruist. It explains why conservatives consistently lose the debate about freedom, and without exception concede the moral argument to their alleged enemies, the “progressives” (alias collectivists or socialists and pinkish totalitarians). After all, who could object to selfless trade to advance and improve mankind’s material existence? I could object to it, because any trade is a selfish exchange of values. Von Mises uses the term selfish in Omnipotent Government, but it is nearly apologetic.

One minor objection is von Mises’s constant use of the term consumer throughout his opus. It is an unfortunate and ubiquitous choice, made by most economists, and means “customer” or “trader.” The term consumer conjures up, at least in my own mind, the image of an identity-less zombie that does nothing but ingest products and services. “Customer” or “trader” would be a truer and more honest term that stresses the volitional and voluntary relationship between the buyer of a seller’s product, and confers the virtue of consciousness on individuals. On the reverse side of that coin is the practice now of government agencies referring to their involuntary hostages as “customers” or “clients,” as though taxpayers and droves of the entitled and extorted had a choice.

See George Orwell’s essay on how government jargon suborns and corrupts language and the mind.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow….

By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he “felt impelled” to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: “[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.” You see, he “feels impelled” to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

I do not know who first employed the euphemism, but I am not alone in my distaste for the term consumer. See this interesting blog. Another minor complaint is von Mises’s usage of the term democracy, which is not the same thing as a nation that is a constitutional republic whose government respects and protects individual rights, but which von Mises thinks it is. This is another dangerous equivocation, and one would have thought that such an encyclopedic mind such as his would have been familiar with the Founders’ abhorrence of democracies, or political systems of mob rule with no restraints on the “majority’s” persecution or looting of minorities (such as businessmen, industrialists, or, in present circumstances, the medical profession under Obamacare). It is such careless usage that perpetuates confusion and ambiguity, and provides the burglars of collectivism with a jimmy with which to “lawfully” enter our lives, businesses, and homes.

But, to his everlasting credit, he reclaims the political term liberal, which to his generation meant a system that advocated individual rights, capitalism, and free markets – markets free of government interference.

My reservations about Omnipotent Government being made, von Mises’s book is a paragon of reason and prescience. In it he unabashedly employs the term capitalism (itself originally a term of ridicule coined by 19th century socialists), and for the term government force, he uses the term interventionism.

To von Mises, the great crime of statism (or etatism, as he prefers to call it) is its propensity for interventionism.

Governments have always looked askance at private property. Governments are never liberal from inclination. It is in the nature of the men handling the apparatus of compulsion and coercion to overrate its power to work, and to strive at subduing all spheres of human life to its immediate influence. Etatism is the occupational disease of rulers, warriors, and civil servants. Governments become liberal only when force to by the citizens.

From time immemorial, governments have been eager to interfere with the working of the market mechanism. Their endeavors have never attained the ends sought. (p. 69)

Rand also comments on statism:

If the term “statism” designates concentration of power in the state at the expense of individual liberty, then Nazism in politics was a form of statism. In principle, it did not represent a new approach to government; it was a continuation of the political absolutism—the absolute monarchies, the oligarchies, the theocracies, the random tyrannies—which has characterized most of human history.

Von Mises describes the collectivist ends sought by governments throughout history and in our own time. His premise?

All civilizations have up to now been based on private ownership of the means of production. In the past civilization and private ownership have been linked together. If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property in inextricably linked with civilization. (p. 68)

Mises does not define civilization, but Ayn Rand does.

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. (“The Soul of an Individualist,” For the New Intellectual, 84)

And a society of privacy is possible only when private property is preserved and protected. A society in which one’s property, pleasures, efforts, expression, and even one’s life are ruled by government interventionism is a society in which one has little or no privacy and no limits exist on what a government may deem in the “public interest.” Democracy is not compatible with individual rights or with property. A government not founded on the principle of individual rights is one that will proclaim eminent domain on private property for one gang (e.g., the anti-smoking or “healthy diet” lobbyists) and on expression (e.g., restrictions on speech that criticizes Muslims and Islam).

Von Mises would not have been surprised by the extent to which federal and state governments have broadened their powers in the name of “social justice” or “social equity.” The U.S. has had a mixed economy from the beginning. The seeds of interventionism lay mostly dormant in the 19th century, but began to sprout late in that era and have spread over the economy and our lives like a suffocating canopy of kudzu. Von Mises notes:

Thus socialism must lead to the dissolution of democracy. The sovereignty of the consumers and the democracy of the market are the characteristic features of the capitalist system. Their corollary in the realm of politics is the people’s sovereignty and democratic control of government…Every step which leads from capitalism toward planning is necessarily a step nearer to absolutism and dictatorship. (p. 63)

Need I cite the “planning” of the current administration, and its disastrous results? Need I cite the fiat absolutism of the current administration to underscore Von Mises’s predictions?

Speaking of dissolution, Von Mises later in Omnipotent Government makes the historical distinction between “doctrinaire” Marxists and pragmatic ones. The first group wielded very little influence in German, British, or even American politics. It was the pragmatic ones who paid lip service to pure Marxism but were devoted to its piecemeal implementation in Western nations. Pure Marxism is what Karl Marx had in mind, and pleaded with the socialists and progressives of his day to stop putting impediments in the way of capitalism in the form of minimum wage rates, taxes and tariffs, labor legislation, and other interventionist policies. Capitalism, he argued in Das Kapital, should be allowed to reach its “maturity,” and then it would automatically morph into a pure communist or socialist society. Von Mises notes:

Marxians do not support interventionism….Orthodox Marxians scorn interventionism as idle reformism detrimental to the interests of the proletarians. They do not expect to bring about the socialist utopia by hampering the evolution of capitalism; on the contrary, they believe that only a full development of the productive forces of capitalism can result in socialism.

But consistency is a very rare quality among Marxians. So most Marxian parties and the trade-unions operated by Marxians are enthusiastic in their support of interventionism. (p. 70)

In other words, the “doctrinaires” wish the pie to finish baking before it somehow, by some mystical Hegelian force, can become a one hundred-place banquet table created by capitalism but inherited by everyone but the individuals who created it. The creators, the producers, the innovators, will all somehow go “poof” and disappear. Inconsistent Marxists – for example, the Democratic Party, the “Progressives,” and the UAW – want the pie now, and don’t care that it isn’t fully baked. Marxist purists wish capitalism to reach some alleged “maturity” uninhibited so it can magically turn into a socialist paradise. Pragmatic Marxists don’t want to wait; their appetite for power demands instant and immediate gratification. (p. 172) In this respect, the current administration has much in common with Occupy Wall Street.

In discussing the fallacies and pretensions of the Nazis, Von Mises observes that the Nazis ultimately (and necessarily, because they were statists) adopted the interventionist policies of their bitter enemies, the Communists, essentially implementing measures described in The Communist Manifesto.

Eight of these ten points have been executed by the German Nazis with a radicalism that would have delighted Marx. The two remaining suggestions (namely, expropriation of private property in land and dedication of all rents to land to public expenditure, and the abolition of all right of inheritance) have not yet been fully adopted by the Nazis. (p. 171)

Marx and Engels later distanced themselves from such policies, calling them socio-reformist frauds.

Von Mises discusses at great length in different sections of Omnipotent Government the futility of war. He was not a pacifist, however. Doubtless he supported the Allied war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. There are, however, many questionable points he makes and premises he writes from, and with which one can disagree. For example, when discussing the paralogisms and polylogisms of the Nazis, Communists, Marxists, and other collectivists, he nearly commits the error of relegating reason to being just “another way of thinking,” one, however, he insists can refute the collectivists. He does not explicitly claim that reason is man’s only tool of survival and living. He merely infers it without elaboration.

He did have one warning, one that should be heeded by champions of freedom today. In our age of statism, open borders for semi-free welfare states that are hamstrung by interventionist polices would be an overture to the collapse of civilization.

These considerations are not a plea for opening America and the British Dominions to German, Italian, and Japanese immigrants. Under present conditions America and Australia would simply commit suicide by admitting Nazis, Fascists, and Japanese. They could as well directly surrender to the Führer and to the Mikado. Immigrants from the totalitarian countries are today the vanguard of their armies, a fifth column whose invasion would render all measures of defense useless. America and Australia can preserve their freedom, their civilizations, and their economic institutions only by rigidly barring access to the subjects of dictators. But these conditions are the outcome of etatism. In the liberal past the immigrants came not as pacemakers of conquest but as loyal citizens of their new country. (pp. 120-121)

Von Mises wrote these words during World War II. And we are no less at war with Islam, which the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamic proxies are waging with violence and demographics and the subornation of Western concepts of civil liberties. Europe is being swamped with Muslims. They have established a beachhead in the U.S. Von Mises died in 1973, having emigrated from Switzerland to the U.S. in 1940. I do not think he could have ever imagined that forty years later the U.S. would adopt a policy of evading the fact that Islam is an ideological enemy and that our government would consciously open the door to invaders who ideology is inimical to American freedom. I imagine that even as late as the 1970’s, he did not think Islam could ever be a threat to the West. In Omnipotent Government he devotes chapters to why populations can adopt and encourage statist and totalitarian ideologies, as the Germans, Italians, and Japanese did, why they must endorse their governments’ policies of aggression and conquest, and how they abet their own demise. Islam is not an ideology of freedom; there is not a single Muslim, moderate or otherwise, who can defend it and still regard himself as a rational being.

Just as no individual could effectively defend German Nazism or Italian Fascism, and still command the respect of his fellows. The irrational is indefensible.

Omnipotent Government is not as heavy or as technical a read as many of Von Mises’s other books. Anyone with strong reading habits will not find it daunting. Once begun, the layman will find himself drawn into Von Mises’s arguments and reasoning, and will grasp from a rational perspective how he has been duped, manipulated, scammed, lied to, and robbed by his government. And even by his teachers.

Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, by Ludwig Von Mises. (1944) Ed. by Betttina Bien Greaves. Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, IN, 1974. 331 pp.

The Bedlam of Statism

Is statism bipolar? Schizophrenic? Autistic? Obsessive-compulsive? Multi-phobic? Inherently dysfunctional? Psychotically antisocial? A form of dementia? A narcissistic personality disorder? A kind of panic or anxiety disorder? Just plain maladaptive? Or all of the preceding? This column will enter the mad house of statism and explore its various wards.

John David Lewis, in his masterpiece about the means and ends of war, Nothing Less Than Victory, cites both Ludwig von MIses and Ayn Rand on etatism and statism or fascism.

In Omnipotent Government, von Mises notes that etatism denotes those political systems that “have a common goal of subordinating the individual unconditionally to the state, the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion.” (Lewis, p. 44)

Quoting from Rand’s column, “The Fascist New Frontier,” Lewis cites Rand:

The dictionary definition of fascism is: “a governmental system with strong centralized power, permitting no opposition or criticism, controlling all affairs of the nation (industrial, commercial, etc.), emphasizing an aggressive nationalism . . .” [The American College Dictionary, New York: Random House, 1957.]

Of statism, she also wrote:

If the term “statism” designates concentration of power in the state at the expense of individual liberty, then Nazism in politics was a form of statism. In principle, it did not represent a new approach to government; it was a continuation of the political absolutism—the absolute monarchies, the oligarchies, the theocracies, the random tyrannies—which has characterized most of human history.

Lewis continues:

Statism applies to any government with such power, whether a primitive tribal ruler, a theocratic council, or a communist or fascist dictatorship – including a democracy unrestrained by fundamental laws – each of which swallows the lives and fortunes of individuals without regard for their rights. The identification of such governments as statist is relatively new, but the practice is of enormous antiquity (as Lewis demonstrates in his chapter on the Theban Wars against the Spartan slave state).

But the subject here is that wherever statism in any of its forms has been established and tried, it has failed, causing economic dislocations and eventual collapse, the impoverishment of its most productive citizenry, their incremental or outright slavery, and an excuse to war on more prosperous and freer neighbors. The history of statism is riddled with these disasters, and at no time has it ever been successful on its own terms, nor will it ever be. Even with a willing and compliant citizenry, it is destined to fail.

If Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia seemed to be “successful,” it was only by grace of the inertia of the semi-free past and a proximity to freer nations, which they immediately began to conquer. The longevity of statism is illusory. Today mixed economies are endemic and seem to thrive only because of the shrinking quantum of liberty and capitalism that may exist in any one nation, and on which statist governments depend for revenue (or loot). Governments produce nothing, not even the desks and chairs and pencils and grosses of paper and ink used by bureaucratic chiefs and their staffs.

Remember that even in the U.S., there are no such things as government-owned and run gun or tank factories, only private companies contracted to produce weaponry or the instruments of force (such as Tasers, electronic cattle prods, protective gear, etc.). The only government-owned and managed “enterprises” by tyrannies have been the charnel houses of concentration camps and Gulags. The exceptions to this rule are communist nations in which the government owns and runs everything and everyone. Even in such overtly totalitarian countries, however, their governments are thieves and parasites preying on the achievements of freer nations. The phenomenon has been amply recorded by many observers, such as Werner Keller and Anthony C. Sutton.

Look at Saudi Arabia, or Venezuela, or “capitalist” China: these are countries that thrive on the products of freedom, while outlawing it for their own populaces. And their longevity is sustained only by the ignorance of those who help them survive, such as Western policymakers, pragmatic businessmen, and tourists.

So, if statism, whatever its form or scope, has a consistent record of tragic and costly failure whenever and wherever it has been tried, what is its appeal? Why do men keep advocating it and imposing it in the face of the incalculable destruction, death and misery it has caused?

It must be madness. A form of mental illness in politicians, leaders, and their followers. It’s easier to champion than are rational self interest, individualism, and no-strings-no-fetters freedom. Collectivism appeals to politicians because it guarantees votes and power. It appeals to voters because it proposes to share the misery of having one’s wealth and that of one’s neighbor expropriated for the greater good of an anonymous, amorphous whole, that omnivorous monster called “society.” The joke is that sacrificing for the “greater good” is not a virtue, but a vice resting on delusions, obsessions, unreasoning malice, or unexamined fears.

Altruism, the morality that underlies collectivism and statism, is a form of madness. It asks a person to value ice cream by never tasting it, or to sacrifice it after one has tasted it. It asks one to value life by not living. It demands that one surrender one’s liberty in exchange for an entitlement. It requires that one not know that one’s rights and freedom originate in the requirements of living as an independent individual, but to believe that one’s rights originate with society or the state to be granted or withdrawn when the state deems it politick.

Daniel Greenfield made this observation:

The Clash of Civilizations is all-encompassing. It doesn’t just cover the big thing, like ramming planes into skyscrapers, but also the little things…. For Mayor Bloomberg, it’s banning large sodas….When there is no limit to government infringement on rights, then the law is a collection of bugbears and control mechanisms…. It’s senseless, but so is fighting obesity by banning people from buying large sodas. When the obsession of a few men is turned into law, then the result is equally contemptuous of the individual as a rotting sack of vile habits which he has to be forced to abandon by the majority of the law.

Once you abandon the rights of the individual to the fiat of activists, judges and politicians– then laws can be made by anyone who wants them badly enough. The same process of judicial activism, hysteria, violent attacks, and pressure groups that created gay marriage can one day lock up the happy couples. It’s only a matter of who is making the laws.

Statism is legalized, institutional irrationality, criminality elevated to the status of duty and “public service.” The irrational, by itself, operating in a social vacuum, is self-destructive. Operating unchecked or unchallenged among men, is destructive of them and of their values.

Walter Williams, in his article, “Immoral Beyond Redemption,” poses the question:

…[D]oes an act that’s clearly immoral and illegal when done privately become moral when it is done legally and collectively? Put another way, does legality establish morality? Before you answer, keep in mind that slavery was legal; apartheid was legal; the Nazis’ Nuremberg Laws were legal; and the Stalinist and Maoist purges were legal. Legality alone cannot be the guide for moral people. The moral question is whether it’s right to take what belongs to one person to give to another to whom it does not belong.

From science fiction, statism can be characterized by a variety of malevolent, inimical creatures. In our public education systems (including universities), children and young people are mandated to sit in front of Alien pod teachers from which leap parasites that cling fast to their minds to plant the seeds of multiculturalism, volunteerism, self-sacrifice, and deference to the state. In economics, we are all attacked by The Blob of taxes, controls, and prohibitions that eat us alive. Predators identify and hunt down anyone who defends himself word or deed against government force.

From the horror genre, the intelligentsia and its cohorts in academe may be represented by Hannibal Lecter, a charming, articulate killer who will promise men the moon while plotting to prepare a meal of them for himself.

Let’s say that statism is bipolar. A bipolar government takes action, such as imposing confiscatory taxes that skew, reduce, or redirect private spending for the sake of raising revenue to support sometimes legitimate but too often illegitimate imperatives and programs. The decades-old campaign against smoking is salutary. Politicians, heeding the demands of anti-smoking lobbies and activists, impose higher taxes and more controls on cigarettes and other tobacco products, theoretically reducing smoking rates among the population ( a state-designated “public good”), and allowing anti-smokers and the asthma-stricken and sensitivity feigners to frolic in businesses, restaurants, and bars they don’t really own.

At the same time, however, government depends on cigarette taxes for revenue, and when the revenue falls, it raises the taxes on cigarettes higher, or finds another taxable product – say, gasoline, or capital gains, or bottles of imported Bailey’s Irish Cream – to make up for a shortfall that becomes increasingly bottomless. (And incidentally creates an “illegal” or underground market for the targeted goods, from smuggled, untaxed cigarettes to outlawed light bulbs to profits deposited in offshore banks, which in turn causes to the government to create more agencies and hire more employees to “police” said market, which in turn requires more taxes and revenue to pay for enforcement.)

A statist or command economy is therefore a Sisyphean nightmare that grows worse with each new echelon of salaried mediocrities put in charge of regulating the latest “public concern.” Statists declare society blighted and proceed to impose eminent domain on neighborhoods, choices, habits, and everyone. This has been the incremental history of Progressivism, which has never had to look far for a “social ill” to cure and regulate. Any human action may be deemed a “social ill” and a candidate for taxation, regulation, or prohibition, from consuming milkshakes to stock or commodity speculation.

The purpose of the taxes, regulations, and prohibitions is to impose the “social justice” clamored for by various social engineering groups that wish to punish, control, or extinguish other groups. Governments – federal, state and local – wish to have enough revenue to either balance their budgets, or at least stave off bigger than usual deficits, while at the same time heeding the social justice brigades’ demands for smoke-free air or reduced car emissions or nutritional information on food products or a “fairer” redistribution of earned income. This compels government policymakers to seek a median, which only ratchets up costs all around. It is a no-win episode of bipolarism for everyone, two steps forward, one step back. It is disguised as “social progress” by the pronouncements of activists, politicians, and public interest groups. What it is in reality is an insidious conditioning of men so that they become inured to slavery.

Some of those activists, politicians, and public interest groups know exactly what it is all progressing to – socialism, fascism, a straightjacket state – but most don’t know, and think that once the tax, regulation, or prohibition is legislated, their work is done. They’ve done their good deed, and remain on the sidelines or become spectators while other activists, politicians, and public interest groups take their turn at “democracy.”

It is all a prescription for bedlam, of groups fighting each other for controls over each other, a “democratic” anarchy that can only result in the stasis of totalitarian rule.

Choose your dementia from the group of statist disorders which introduced this column. As with personal, clinically defined mental illnesses, each is founded on some species of the irrational.

When are Americans going to stop believing in the miracle nostrums of statism, and seek out and heed the advice of those who prescribe the steps to take toward the sanity of freedom?

Review: Nothing Less Than Victory

The last engaging book I read on the means and ends of warfare before John Lewis’s was a 2009 abridged version of Winston Churchill’s The River War, originally published in 1899. Its original, full title included An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan. The term “reconquest” was misleading, because the Sudan had never before been “conquered” by the British, but was under the jurisdiction of Egypt, then a protectorate of Britain. Egypt was unable to deal militarily with the Dervish forces that meant to conquer it. It fell to Britain extinguish the Mahdist or Islamic threat, which, unchecked, could well have spread from Egypt to the rest of North Africa and the Middle East.

General Herbert Kitchener was tasked with that formidable project. Churchill describes the meticulous and determined campaign he waged, which was not just a matter of sending an army into the desert wastes to fight fanatical tribesmen. It meant reforming the corrupt and ineffectual Egyptian government, rebuilding the Egyptian army and its Sudanese levies, building a railroad into enemy territory, and mastering the stupendous logistics of supplies and men. The stated objective was to erase the Mahdist regime as a military and political threat in the whole region. The climax of the campaign was the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898, in which the Dervish army was utterly decimated and routed.

In the end, over a year later, the successor of Mahdi Muhammad Ahmed, Abdallah ibn Muhammad, was killed and the remnants of his forces routed at the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat.

The Sudan Campaign had clear military and political objectives. The British government then had the will to take the necessary actions to destroy an enemy and discredit the ideology that moved it.

Churchill noted in The River War that, ” The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.”

In short, Islam, like the Nazi, Fascist, and Shinto ideologies which compelled Germany, Italy, and Japan to invade other countries, must be repudiated by the aggressor and cease to be regarded by its adherents and converts as a feasible and desired ideology that fosters “peace.”

This comports with the main theme of John David Lewis’s seminal work on the efficacious “warfighting” policies of the past, Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History (Princeton University Press, 2010). That “great power” comes in many disguises. Lewis tackles some of them.

Lewis, however, does not immediately discuss 20th century conflicts, but wars of antiquity, using them as overtures to his discussions of the Civil War and World Wars One and Two, underscoring the need, in warfare, of a government to have the will to identify an enemy and his morality or ideology, and then the will to fight the war on its own terms, and not those of the enemy. What is more, the attacked nation must be willing to eviscerate the enemy’s will to fight on to foreshorten the conflict and possibly establish a peace beneficial to the former opponents.

In each of the conflicts that he illustrates, Lewis economically dwells on military strategies of opponents, but places far more importance on the moral force, or lack of it, that guides one side to victory and the other to defeat. In his Introduction to Nothing Less Than Victory, Lewis states:

Those who wage war to enslave a continent – or to impose their dictatorships over a neighboring state – are seeking an end that is deeply immoral and must not be judged morally equal to those defending against such attacks.

Further on he notes:

Certainly the tactics of Roman foot soldiers cannot be applied to tank divisions today, but the Romans might be able to tell us something about the motivations of a stateless enemy that is subverting a world power….The goal of war is the subjugation of the hostile will, which echoes Carl von Clausewitz’s identification that war is ‘an act of force to compel the enemy to do our will.’

This is Lewis’s only indirect reference to Islamic jihad. Today, Islam is the “stateless enemy” subverting a world power (the U.S.), but the U.S. lacks to will to identify that enemy and take the necessary steps to vanquish it. (Lewis does not discuss the Islamic jihad, but all the points he makes about other wars may be applied to that species of aggression.) There is an eerie parallel between the current situation and Lewis’s Chapter Six, “The Balm of a Guilty Conscience,” which details the evasions, fallacious soul-searching, and moral disintegration of British diplomacy in the face of the evolving and maturing nemesis of Nazi Germany before the onset of World War Two. As Lewis demonstrates in that chapter, British and Allied concessions to Hitler abetted the maturation of Hitler’s régime to the point that Hitler could confidently plan and embark on his conquests. Lewis demonstrates novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand’s observation that

Do not confuse appeasement with tactfulness or generosity. Appeasement is not consideration for the feelings of others, it is consideration for and compliance with the unjust, irrational and evil feelings of others. It is a policy of exempting the emotions of others from moral judgment, and of willingness to sacrifice innocent, virtuous victims to the evil malice of such emotions.

In a brilliant dissection of the causes of the rise of Nazism, Lewis pinpoints those “feelings” stemming from the Versailles Treaty of 1919, in which the victors laid blame for World War One squarely on Germany’s aggressions, but which German politicians and moralists interpreted as an unjust victimization of Germany. It is in this chapter that Lewis best explicates the differences between an aggressor nation’s surrender and its defeat.

Germany, he writes, surrendered without admitting defeat. Over time, British and Allied governments were persuaded – or persuaded themselves – that German feelings and assertions of victimization and humiliation were justified, and incrementally, in a succession of concessions, allowed Hitler to cement his power over Germany, and later waived all moral judgment for his takeovers of Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia, not to mention his determined rearmament in violation of the Treaty’s terms.

Craven British diplomatic maneuvering and peace-hankering newspapers pressured France into making conciliations. France, devastated by the German invasion and depredations in the first war, and which stood the most to lose if Germany rearmed, initially took steps to enforce the Treaty’s terms, but was browbeaten into submission by “public opinion” and the Allies virtual abandonment of the Treaty. After the invasions of Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, France was the next country targeted by the wrath of Germany’s vengeful feelings.

I guarantee that anyone who reads Chapter Six will emerge with an enriched and refocused understanding of the causes of World War Two. Complementing that chapter is “Gifts from Heaven,” in which he discusses how and why the Shinto/Bushido culture of Imperial Japan had to be gutted from top to bottom, beginning with the Emperor clear down through Japanese politics to the schoolroom, as an integral element of the American defeat of Japan to ensure that it would never again formulate a design for conquest. It was necessary for Japan not only to surrender, but to admit to the world and to its citizens the ignominious defeat of its philosophy of existence, which was essentially a philosophy of death.

Grant Jones, in his 2010 review of Lewis’s book in Michigan War Studies Review, reprises Lewis’s comparison of the strategies adopted by Civil War Generals George McClellan and William T. Sherman in Chapter Five, “The Hard Hand of War.” McClellan, notes Lewis, was a superb administrator but a poor strategist, hamstrung by an ambivalent attitude towards his own troops and absent a clear goal.

Lewis shows that Sherman was cut from different cloth, not by focusing on his famous Marches, but by examining the moral force behind his ruthless strategy to destroy the Southern planter class. In looking at Sherman’s correspondence with John Bell Hood, Lewis discerns the elements that together made Sherman’s strategy so effective: properly assigning war guilt, developing an understanding of both one’s own society and the enemy’s, identifying the enemy’s vital center, and defining victory. Lewis sums up Sherman’s famous “War is cruelty” response to Confederate entreaties that he moderate his policies: “These familiar passages cut to the heart of Sherman’s attitude toward an enemy that had started a war that his command now charged him to end: he accepted no guilt for a war that was not of his making. This sense of rightness allowed him to prosecute the war to its conclusion quickly, with his force directed at the true source of southern power rather than merely at military positions dependent upon that power.

Lewis briefly discusses the failed war policy of Vietnam, and further rebuts the many and varied arguments that the U.S. should not have used atomic bombs on Japan. He concludes his rebuttals with:

All weapons – from bowie knives to hydrogen bombs – are designed to kill, and there is a scale of destructiveness on which they fall….To break the Japanese leadership out of their ideological blunders and end the war, American leaders needed to kill a lot of Japanese in a visibly shocking way. The resulting shock led to an immediate end to the war.

The alternative, as described in detail by Lewis, was a massive invasion of Japan whose population was being exhorted to fight the Americans to the death with sticks and stones, thus prolonging the war and resulting in incalculable American casualties.

Compare America’s warfighting philosophy then with that which has governed our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, governed by “just war theory” which deliberately, at the cost of American lives and treasure, spares enemy populations of the consequences of their active or passive support of their masters.

Lewis’s book is not a cobbled-together collection of arbitrary, hindsight anecdotes, but one that takes the rare examples of proper warfighting policy adopted by aggressed-upon nations, and drives home the principles behind his thesis. The logical progression of his examples is enlightening and indisputable.

Lewis, a classical studies scholar, is the author of two previous books on the politics and judicial thought of antiquity, Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens (Duckworth Publishers, 2008), and Early Greek Lawgivers (Duckworth Publishers, 2007). So it is not coincidence that he chose to illustrate his thesis in the first four chapters of Nothing Less Than Victory, covering the Greco-Persian Wars, the Theban war against Sparta, the Second Punic War, and Roman Emperor Aurelian’s campaigns to prevent the disintegration of the Roman Empire. In each of these chapters he illustrates the efficacy of the policy of taking the war to the aggressor enemy’s land for the sole purpose of deflating the aggressor’s moral motivation.

Lewis concludes his nonpareil survey with this advisement:

Sic vis pacem, para bellum. Or – If you want peace, prepare for war.

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