Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A frugal government shall leave [men] free to regulate their own pursuits.

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A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicity. - Thomas Jefferson

Did You Hear the One About...
by Floy Lilley

Did you hear the one about bobbing heads on Sunday agreeing that the cause of the Great Depression was the absence of government guidance? "The Great Depression would never have happened if there had been any economic regulations," agreed the policy wonks.

Oh, really?

So you think a free society generated that monstrosity?

It is accurate to say that in 1900 a free society did exist. The government still approximated a minimal state, exerting minimal guidance, and commanding minimal economic regulation. But, after 1900, virtually all public policy proposals called for more extensive governmental guidance.

Perhaps the television talksters could benefit from a bit of homeschooling. An excellent source of data is Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episode in the Growth of American Government by Robert Higgs (1987). The time frame of the period up to and into the 1920s, in other words those years before the Great Depression, included WWI. That dramatic episode birthed government expansion and intervention, much of which remained in regulatory force after the generating crisis had past.

A partial list of interventions – those government economic regulations – would include:

* Bureau of Corporations (1903)
* Interstate Commerce Act major amendments (1903, 1906, 1910)
* Meat Inspection Act (1906)
* Pure Food and Drug Act (1906)
* Corporation Tax (1911)
* Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1913) (Income Tax)
* Federal Reserve System (1913)
* Clayton Antitrust Act (1914)
* Federal Trade Commission (1914)
* U.S. Immigration (cut to a trickle during 1915–1920)
* Adamson Act (1916) (railroad labor wage rates)
* Shipping Act (1916)
* National Defense Act (1916)
* Army Appropriations Act (1916) (later took over railroads)
* Selective Service Act (1917)
* Espionage Act (1917)
* Lever Act (1917) (food and fuel) (prohibited alcohol)
* Overman Act (1918) (executive powers)
* War Finance Corporation Act (1918)
* President’s Mediation Commission (1917) (labor relations)
* Federal Control Act (1918)
* Sedition Act (1918)

Does this look like a laissez-faire list?

Higgs summarizes just exactly how guided and regulated all economic activities were:
The two years, 1916–1918, witnessed an enormous and wholly unprecedented intervention of the federal government in the nation’s economic affairs. By the time of the armistice, the government had taken over the ocean shipping, railroad, telephone, and telegraph industries; commandeered hundreds of manufacturing plants; entered into massive economic enterprises on its own account in such varied departments as shipbuilding, wheat trading, and building construction; undertaken to lend huge sums to businesses directly or indirectly and to regulate the private issuance of securities; established official priorities for the use of transportation facilities, food, fuel, and many raw materials; fixed the prices of dozens of important commodities; intervened in hundreds of labor disputes; and conscripted millions of men for service in the armed forces. It had, in short, extensively distorted or wholly displaced markets, creating what some contemporaries called war socialism.

Additionally, Higgs documented that,
The public debt, which had been slightly more than $1 billion before the war, was over $25 billion at the end of the war and remained almost $17 billion as late as 1929.

While their heads were bobbing, my head was shaking.

This all had to have been a joke. Right?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A fool and his money are soon elected.

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A fool and his money are soon elected. - Will Rogers

Small Government Caused Our Current Problems?
by Robert Higgs

As soon as I saw the headline of an August 10 article by financial columnist Peter Cohan, I knew that something was terribly wrong. It reads: "How did the politics of small government lead to big government bailouts?" This is akin to asking, How did the extinction of the elephants lead to Barack Obama's election as president? If you make a claim of the form "A caused B," but A never happened, then you are wasting your time by delving into the historical details of this bogus relationship.

Yet we continue to see one example after another of what suspicious readers may be tempted to view as the Big Lie that deregulation or other obliging government measures caused the present economic mess. I won't go so far as to characterize this claim as a Big Lie. Although some its purveyors, acting out of partisan motives, surely know that they are blowing smoke, others may simply suffer from economic ignorance, analytical confusion, or loss of historical memory. In any event, the public is ill-served by commentators who purport to speak with authority about our current economic troubles and related government's policies, yet peddle this worse-than-sophomoric tale.

The Cohan article in question consists of so much nonsense that a full critique of it might be enough to compose a student's senior thesis, but the part that interests me right now is the claim that "the idea of small government . . . helped create the ineffective regulatory agencies which allowed all kinds of questionable practices to thrive in American business, especially in the world of finance. By helping create a record debt bubble, which thrived in an era of weak regulatory oversight, small government nearly ruined the global economy last fall."

So, there you have it in plain English. To repeat: "small government nearly ruined the global economy last fall." Cohan spares us any evidence that we actually had a small government at any time during the past twenty-five years. I would be especially interested in such evidence, inasmuch as I have written a number of articles and books brimming with evidence that in fact the governments of this country at every level were growing in size, scope, and power during those years.

Like Cohan, those who continually blame insufficient regulation for our present plight offer little or no evidence, relying instead on the implicit assumption that if only the regulations had been much stricter, the bankers and other business-sector malefactors never would have perpetrated their evil deeds. This faith in the regulators is touching, to be sure, but it is also extremely naïve. We now have – and long have had – miles of regulations on the books and legions of regulators at work in scores of government agencies. What specific power did they lack? And had they been given even greater powers, budgets, and staffs, what enchantment would have transformed these ostensible guardians into smart, dogged champions of the public interest, rather than the time-serving drones and co-conspirators with the regulated firms that they have always been?

Somehow, no matter how many regulations are created and how many regulators are put on the government payroll, when these rules and enforcement agents fail to prevent a disaster, many people's response is to propose that the government write more regulations and hire more regulators. If these advocates of expanded government intervention had been in New Orleans as it was being submerged under floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they no doubt would have proposed that the Corps of Engineers dynamite the remaining levies – to prove that they favored "doing something."

"Ironically," writes Cohan, "another Republican, Ben Bernanke . . . decided that in the midst of a catastrophic economic collapse . . . the prescription for the problem was the biggest government in American history." And thank goodness, too, he opines, because owing to all of the wonderful mitigation that the Fed's unprecedented actions have produced to soften and reverse this inexplicable, out-of-blue episode of financial panic and recession, "there is a good chance that historians will look back on Bernanke as the man who saved the world." I can't speak for all historians, of course, but speaking for one of them, I can guarantee that no such story will be disseminated under my name. On the contrary, by taking into account how the government and the Fed created necessary conditions for the financial bubble that burst last September – as many competent analysts have already shown, notwithstanding Cohan's disregard of their findings – we quickly appreciate that Bernanke's supposed world-saving would never have been deemed necessary had he and others in high government places not done so much to place the world in jeopardy in the first place.

Never one to linger over a single piece of nonsense when another beckons, Cohan proceeds without transition to the question, "How do we keep this from happening again?" To which his amazing answer is: "The most important way is to change how bankers get paid." Oh, sure, that will turn the trick. Never mind the government's countless measures from the 1930s onward to steer money into mortgage loans to borrowers with little likelihood of repaying them. Never mind the massive efforts of the government-sponsored giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to create secondary markets for rotten mortgage-related IOUs galore. Never mind the Fed's pumping up of the real-estate bubble by rapidly expanding credit and holding interest rates at absurdly low levels for years on end. Never mind all of this and a great deal more. Simply change how bankers get paid, and the sun will shine on us again.

"We [by which Cohan seems to mean the government] need to change banker's pay so that they only get rewarded if their risks are profitable," he declares, "and punished if they lose money." Some readers might find this idea appealing, if they don't spend much time thinking it through. In truth, however, the government already plays too large a role: if the government and the Fed did not stand in the background, ready and willing to bail out reckless bankers, the bankers would act a great deal more prudently, as would their boards of directors when deciding how to compensate the managers. Moreover, I venture to remind our financial guru – who is described as the president of a consulting and venture-capital firm, a management teacher at Babson College and the author of eight books – that how bankers get paid lies properly within the domain of the banks' boards of directors. It's really none of my business, or his.

In contrast, how the government and the Fed act is my business because they purport to act on my behalf, and even if they didn't so purport, they still act in many ways that harm me. So I'm entitled to hold them to account for their actions. As long as the Cohans of this world continue to blame private actors and "the idea of small government" for the economic disasters that the government and the Fed produce, however, we have little chance to clarify what might – and should – be done to remedy our plight and preclude serial repetitions of such destructive actions.

Not content with having embraced several stupendously erroneous and misguided ideas, Cohan plows to an equally dim-witted conclusion by declaring that besides setting the compensation of bankers, the government should establish "an independent government agency to create financial statements for companies and money managers." Sure. Let the government keep the accounts. After all, the government has a flawless record of keeping honest accounts and scrupulously avoiding multi-trillion-dollar Ponzi schemes, such as Social Security, and pie-in-the-sky promises, such as Medicare that stretches to the limits of the known financial universe. The Department of Defense, which since 1994 has been required by law to perform an annual financial audit, has yet to perform one. Each year a DoD accounting functionary dutifully testifies before Congress that the department's accounts are in such a mess that its records cannot be audited. Is this the kind of financial-accounting proficiency we want to impose on the private sector? Cohan thinks so.

Got a problem? Just give the government a great deal more power, and our friendly, competent rulers will take care of everything. I shudder to think that columnists may actually get paid for spouting such childish twaddle.

Excessive dislike of [a foreign nation], causes [agitators] to see danger only on one side.

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Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real Patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favourite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests. - George Washington

Ron Pauls's statement before the US House of Representatives opposing resolution on Iran, June 19, 2009

I rise in reluctant opposition to H Res 560, which condemns the Iranian government for its recent actions during the unrest in that country. While I never condone violence, much less the violence that governments are only too willing to mete out to their own citizens, I am always very cautious about “condemning” the actions of governments overseas. As an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, I have always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives. I have always hesitated when my colleagues rush to pronounce final judgment on events thousands of miles away about which we know very little. And we know very little beyond limited press reports about what is happening in Iran.

Of course I do not support attempts by foreign governments to suppress the democratic aspirations of their people, but when is the last time we condemned Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the many other countries where unlike in Iran there is no opportunity to exercise any substantial vote on political leadership? It seems our criticism is selective and applied when there are political points to be made. I have admired President Obama’s cautious approach to the situation in Iran and I would have preferred that we in the House had acted similarly.

I adhere to the foreign policy of our Founders, who advised that we not interfere in the internal affairs of countries overseas. I believe that is the best policy for the United States, for our national security and for our prosperity. I urge my colleagues to reject this and all similar meddling resolutions.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We cannot borrow our way into prosperity.

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We cannot borrow our way into prosperity. - Rand Paul

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The State moves slowly to any purpose that is to society’s advantage, but moves rapidly to one that is to its advantage.

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The State always moves slowly and grudgingly towards any purpose that accrues to society's advantage, but moves rapidly and with alacrity towards one that accrues to its own advantage; nor does it ever move towards social purposes on its own initiative, but only under heavy pressure, while its motion towards anti-social purposes is self-sprung. - Albert Jay Nock

Albert Jay Nock, Forgotten Man of the Old Right

by Jeffrey A. Tucker

For an earlier generation of American dissidents from the prevailing ideology of left-liberalism, a rite of passage was reading Albert Jay Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, which appeared in 1943. William F. Buckley was hardly alone in seeing it as a seminal text crucial to his personal formation.

Here it is in one package, an illustration of the level of learning that had been lost with mass education, a picture of the way a true political dissident from our collectivist period thinks about the modern world, and a comprehensive argument for the very meaning of freedom and civility – all from a man who helped shape the Right's intellectual response to the triumph of FDR's welfare-warfare State.

It was destined to be a classic, read by many generations to come. But then the official doctrine changed. Instead of seeing war as part of the problem, as a species of socialism, National Review led the American Right down a different path. Nock's book was quickly buried with the rise of the Cold War State, which required that conservatives reject anything like radical individualism – even of Nock's aristocratic sort – and instead embrace the Wilson-FDR values of nationalism and militarism.

Instead of Nock's Memoirs, young conservatives were encouraged to read personal accounts of communists who converted to backing the Cold War (e.g. Whittaker Chambers), as if warming up to the glories of nukes represents some sort of courageous intellectual step. To the extent that Nock (1870–1947) is known at all today, it is by libertarians, and for his classic essay Our Enemy, The State (1935), and his wonderful little biography, Mr. Jefferson (1926). Both are great works. He was also the founder of The Freeman in its first incarnation (1920–1924), which held to the highest literary standards and provoked unending controversy with its sheer radicalism.

However, it is with the Memoirs, this wonderful little treatise – part autobiography, part ideological instructional – that we are given the full Nockian worldview, not just his politics but his culture, his life, and his understanding of man and his place in the universe. The book makes a very bracing read today, if only because it proves how little today's "conservative movement" has to do with its mid-century ancestor in the Old Right. It is also instructive for libertarians to discover that there is more to anarchism than childish rantings against the police power.

The phrase Man of Letters is thrown around casually these days, but A.J. Nock was the real thing. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he was homeschooled from the earliest age in Greek and Latin, unbelievably well read in every field, a natural aristocrat in the best sense of that term. He combined an old-world cultural sense (he despised popular culture) and a political anarchism which saw the State as the enemy of everything that is civilized, beautiful, and true. And he applied this principle consistently in opposition to welfare, government-managed economies, consolidation, and, above all else, war.

In the introduction to my edition, Hugh MacLennan compares the Memoirs to The Education of Henry Adams, and expresses the hope that it will "one day be recognized as the minor classic it really is." Well, I can predict that this time is not coming soon. Given its contents, consistency, relentless truth telling, and, above all, its sheer persuasive power, it is a wonder that the book is in print and that we are even allowed to read it.

To follow Nock, what traits must a man of the Right have? He must be both fiercely independent and believe in the power of social authority; he must love tradition but hate the State and everything it does; he must believe in radical freedom while never doubting the immutability of human nature and natural laws; he must be anti-materialist in his own life while defending economic freedom without compromise; he must be an elitist and anti-democrat yet despise elites who hold illicit power; and he must be realistic about the dim prospects for change while still retaining a strong sense of hope and enthusiasm for life.

I'm not sure I can think of anyone but Murray Rothbard who consistently upheld the Nockian position after Nock's death, and it is his Memoirs that provides a full immersion in his genius. Consider Nock's main literary device: to take a commonplace subject, make a casual and slightly quirky observation about it, one that wins your affections, and then surprise and shock by driving the point to score a deadly blow against some great evil that is widely taken for granted:

"Another neighbor, a patriarchal old Englishman with a white beard, kept a great stand of bees. I remember his incessant drumming on a tin pan to marshal them when they were swarming, and myself as idly wondering who first discovered that this was the thing to do, and why the bees should fall in with it. It struck me that if the bees were as intelligent as bees are cracked up to be, instead of mobilizing themselves for old Reynolds' benefit, they would sting him soundly and then fly off about their business. I always think of this when I see a file of soldiers, wondering why the sound of a drum does not incite them to shoot their officers, throw away their rifles, go home, and go to work."

In the course of his 325-page narrative, he employs this casual device again and again, until you begin to get the message that there is something profoundly wrong with the world, and the biggest thing of all is the State. In Nock's view, it is the State that crowds out all that is decent, lovely, civilized. He demonstrates this not through deduction but through calm and entertaining tales of how rich and varied and productive life can be when the State does not interfere.

In a society without the State, for example, the "court of tastes and manners" would be the thing that guides the operation of society, and this "court" would have a much larger role in society than law, legislation, or religion. If such a court were not in operation, because people are too uncivilized or too ill-educated to maintain it, there was nothing the State could do to uplift people. No matter how low a civilization is, it can only be made to go lower through State activity.

Though an old-school Yankee of the purest-bred sort, he completely rejected what came to be the defining trait of his class: the impulse to try to improve others through badgering and coercion:

"One of the most offensive things about the society in which I later found myself was its monstrous itch for changing people. It seemed to me a society made up of congenital missionaries, natural-born evangelists and propagandists, bent on re-shaping, re-forming and standardizing people according to a pattern of their own devising – and what a pattern it was, good heavens! When one came to examine it. It seems to me, in short, a society fundamentally and profoundly ill-bred. A very small experience of it was enough to convince me that Cain's heresy was not altogether without reason or without merit; and that conviction quickly ripened into a great horror of every attempt to change anybody; or I should rather say, every wish to change anybody, for that is the important thing. The attempt is relatively immaterial, perhaps, for it is usually its own undoing, but the moment one wishes to change anybody, one becomes like the socialists, vegetarians, prohibitionists; and this, as Rabelais, says, 'is a terrible thing to think upon.'"

Given such views, it is hardly surprising that he had nothing but contempt for politics, which then and now seeks not to only manage society but manage thought as well:

"My first impression of politics was unfavorable; and my disfavor was heightened by subsequently noticing that the people around me always spoke of politics and politicians in a tone of contempt. This was understandable. If all I had casually seen…was of the essence of politics, if it was part and parcel of carrying on the country's government, then obviously a decent person could find no place in politics, not even the place of a ordinary voter, for the forces of ignorance, brutality and indecency would outnumber him ten to one."

But, with Nock's infallible flair for radicalism, his logic takes him further down the anarchist road:

"Nevertheless there was an anomaly here. We were supposed to respect our government and its laws, yet by all accounts those who were charged with the conduct of government the making of its laws were most dreadful swine; indeed, the very conditions of their tenure precluded their being anything else."

Nock is capable of surprising readers who think they might be able to anticipate the biases of a traditionalist-anarchist. Sometimes old-style, rightist aristocrats who wax eloquent on the virtues of tradition fall into strange left-wing habits of extolling the environment as something glorious and virtuous on its own, and somehow deserving of being left alone. Nock had no interest in this strange deviation. Consider his experience with the woods and nature:

"In those years [living in rural areas] I undoubtedly built up and fortified the singular immunity to infirmity and disease which has lasted all my life; but in those years also my congenital indifference to nature in the wild, natural scenery, rocks, rills, woods and templed hills, hardened into permanent distaste. Like the Goncourts, I can see nature only as an enemy; a highly respected enemy, but an enemy. 'I am a lover of knowledge,' Socrates said, 'and the men who dwell in the city are my teachers, and not the trees or the country.'"

Nock was thus not an American Tory by any stretch, though his cultural outlook was as high-brow as any landed aristocrat's. What's more, unlike the socialist anarchists and most conservatives of today, Nock believed in and understood the crucial importance, even centrality, of economic liberty:

"If a regime of complete economic freedom be established, social and political freedom will follow automatically; and until it is established neither social nor political freedom can exist. Here one comes in sight of the reason why the State will never tolerate the establishment of economic freedom. In a spirit of sheer conscious fraud, the State will at any time offer its people 'four freedoms,' or six, or any number; but it will never let them have economic freedom. If it did, it would be signing its own death-warrant, for as Lenin pointed out, 'it is nonsense to make any pretence of reconciling the State and liberty.' Our economic system being what it is, and the State being what it is, all the mass verbiage about 'the free peoples' and 'the free democracies' is merely so much obscene buffoonery."

In fact, he understood even technical points of economics that are completely lost on most conservatives today. Here is Nock on the 1920s bubble economy:

"Many no doubt remember the 'new economics' hatched in the consulship of Mr. Coolidge, whereby it was demonstrated beyond question that credit could be pyramided on credit indefinitely, and all hands could become rich with no one doing any work. Then when this seductive theory blew up with a loud report in 1929, we began to hear of the economics of scarcity, the economics of plenty, and then appeared the devil-and-all of 'plans,' notions about pump-priming, and disquisitions on the practicability of a nation's spending itself rich…. Ever since 1918 people everywhere have been thinking in terms of money, not in terms of commodities; and this in spite of the most spectacular evidence that such thinking is sheer insanity. The only time I was ever a millionaire was when I spent a few weeks in Germany in 1923. I was the proud possessor of more money than one could shake a stick at, but I could buy hardly anything with it."

And on fiscal policy:

"Another strange notion pervading whole peoples is that the State has money of its own; and nowhere is this absurdity more firmly fixed than in America. The State has no money. It produces nothing. It existence is purely parasitic, maintained by taxation; that is to say, by forced levies on the production of others. 'Government money,' of which one hears so much nowadays, does not exist; there is no such thing. One is especially amused at seeing how largely a naïve ignorance of this fact underlies the pernicious measures of 'social security' which have been foisted on the American people. In various schemes of pensioning, of insurance against sickness, accident, unemployment and what-not, one notices that the government is supposed to pay so-much into the fund, the employer so-much, and the workman so-much…. But the government pays nothing, for it has nothing to pay with. What such schemes actually come to is that the workman pays his own share outright; he pays the employer's share in the enhanced price of commodities; and he pays the government's share in taxation. He pays the whole bill; and when one counts in the unconscionably swollen costs of bureaucratic brokerage and paperasserie, one sees that what the workman-beneficiary gets out the arrangement is about the most expensive form of insurance that could be devised consistently with keeping its promoters out of gaol."

A special contribution of Nock's book is his comprehensive critique of the pre-New Deal reform movements that culminated in the Progressive Era. Though he had once identified himself as a true liberal in the Jeffersonian sense, he was a close observer of the early stages of liberalism's corruption, when it came to mean not liberty but something else entirely. He saw the essential error that the liberal movement was making:

"Liberals generally – there may be have exceptions, but I do not know who they were – joined in the agitation for an income-tax, in utter disregard of the fact that it meant writing the principle of absolutism into the Constitution. Nor did they give a moment's thought to the appalling social effects of an income-tax; I never once heard this aspect of the matter discussed. Liberals were also active in promoting the 'democratic' movement for the popular election of senators. It certainly took no great perspicacity to see that these two measures would straightway ease our political systems into collectivism as soon as some Eubulus, some mass-man overgifted with sagacity, should maneuver himself into popular leadership; and in the nature of things, this would not be long."

In time, of course, the liberal reform movement began to adopt a mild version of the class-war rhetoric of the socialist left, and the longer this went on, the more the political process came to be a struggle not between liberty and power but between two versions of State domination:

"What I was looking at was simply a tussle between two groups of mass-men, one large and poor, the other small and rich, and as judged by the standards of civilized society, neither of them any more meritorious or promising than the other. The object of the tussle was the material gains accruing from control of the State's machinery. It is easier to seize wealth than to produce it; and as long as the State makes the seizure of wealth a matter of legalized privilege, so long will the squabble for that privilege go on."

From Nock's point of view, the Great Depression and the two world wars saddled America with a new faith in the State, and along with it came a shift in people's loyalties, from themselves, their families, and communities to the Grand National Project, whatever it may be. We see the same thing today on the right and left, when questioning any aspect of the war on terrorism gets you branded as a heretic to the national religion. Nock would have nothing to do with it:

"I am profoundly thankful that during my formative years I never had contact with any institution under State control; not in school, not in college, nor yet in my three years of irregular graduate study. No attempt was ever made by anyone to indoctrinate me with State-inspired views – or any views, for that matter – of patriotism or nationalism. I was never dragooned into flag-worship or hero-worship, never was caught in any spate of verbiage about duty to one's country, never debauched by any of the routine devices hatched by scoundrels for inducing a synthetic devotion to one's native land and loyalty to its jobholders. Therefore when later the various aspects of contemporary patriotism and nationalism appeared before me, my mind was wholly unprepossessed, and my view of them was unaffected by any emotional distortion."

What, then, is patriotism, if not faith in one's government? Can patriotism be considered a virtue at all to the civilized man, and, if so, in what does it consist. Consider this passage of immense power:

"What is patriotism? Is it loyalty to a spot on a map, marked off from others spots by blue or yellow lines, the spot where one was born? But birth is a pure accident; surely one is in no way responsible for having been born on this spot or on that. Flaubert had poured a stream of corrosive irony on this idea of patriotism. Is it loyalty to a set of political jobholders, a king and his court, a president and his bureaucracy, a parliament, a congress, a Duce or Fuhrer, a camorra of commissars? I should say it depends entirely on what the jobholders are like and what they do. Certainly I had never seen any who commanded my loyalty; I should feel utterly degraded if ever once I thought they could. Does patriotism mean loyalty to a political system and its institutions, constitutional, autocratic, republican, or what-not? But if history has made anything unmistakably clear, it is that from the standpoint of the individual and his welfare, these are no more than names. The reality which in the end they are found to cover is the same for all alike. If a tree be known by its fruits, which I believe is regarded as good sound doctrine, then the peculiar merit of a system, if it has any, ought to be reflected in the qualities and conditions of the people who live under it; and looking over the peoples and systems of the world, I found no reason in the nature of things why a person should be loyal to one system rather than another. One could see at a glance that there is no saving grace in any system. Whatever merit or demerit may attach to any of them lies in the way it is administered.

"So when people speak of loyalty to one's country, one must ask them what they mean by that. What is one's country? Mr. Jefferson said contemptuously that 'merchants have no country; the mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.' But one may ask, why should I? This motive of patriotism seems to me perfectly sound, and if it should be sound for merchants, why not for others who are not merchants? If it holds good in respect of material gains, why not of spiritual gains, cultural gains, intellectual and aesthetic gains? As a general principle, I should put it that a man's country is where the things he loves are most respected. Circumstances may have prevented his ever setting foot there, but it remains his country."

In the early years of the American republic, patriotism and loyalty were primarily directed toward one's town or county, because it was very likely the place that the things one loves are most respected. Something like national patriotism was unknown. It came to be imposed under consolidation. Under today's conservative view of patriotism, that our loves must be dictated by the State, there would be no argument against the idea that we ought to be patriotic toward Nato or the UN. Nock had this to say about global consolidation:

"Some of the more adventurous spirits, apparently under the effects of Mr. Wilson's inspiration, went so far as to propose educating all mankind into setting up a World State which should supersede the separatist nationalist State; on the principle, so it seemed, that if a spoonful of prussic acid will kill you, a bottleful is just what you need to do you a great deal of good."

Nock would also be dissident on the Right today concerning the freedom of association, which he saw as the very essence of freedom itself.

"I know, however, that the problem of no minority anywhere can be settled unless and until two preliminaries are established. First, that the principle of equality before the law be maintained without subterfuge and with the utmost vigor. Second, that this principle be definitively understood as carrying no social implications of any kind whatever. 'I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following,' said Shylock; 'but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.' These two preliminaries demand a much clearer conception of natural as well as legal rights than I think can ever prevail in America."

Nock is sometimes presented as a brooding man who despaired for his country. There seems to be truth in that, but what's most impressive is how he managed to keep his chin up and find personal joy in fighting evil, or at least exposing it as much as possible.

"All I have done towards the achievement of a happy life, has been to follow my nose…I learned early with Thoreau that a man is rich in proportion to the numbers of things he can afford to let alone; and in view of this I have always considered myself extremely well-to-do. All I ever asked of life was the freedom to think and say exactly what I pleased, when I pleased, and as I pleased. I have always had that freedom, with an immense amount of uncovenanted lagniappe thrown in; and having had it, I always felt I could well afford to let all else alone. It is true that one can never get something for nothing; it is true that in a society like ours one who takes the course which I have taken must reconcile himself to the status of a superfluous man; but the price seems to me by no means exorbitant and I have paid it gladly, without a shadow of doubt that I was getting all the best in the bargain."

There are aspects of Nock that call for correction. His views on marriage and the family are highly unconventional, for example, and he sometimes takes his notion of the "remnant" too far, appearing to endorse passivity in the face of rising despotism, for example. He refused to join any antiwar movements, not because he disagreed with their goal but because he didn't believe his participation would do any good.

But here is where his example is more instructive than his theory: Nock fought against the State with the most powerful weapons he had, his mind and his pen. Despite his claim, he was not superfluous at all, but essential, even indispensable, as are all great libertarian intellectuals.

Pass the Memoirs on to a twenty-year-old student and you stand a good chance of arming him against a lifetime of nonsense, whether it comes from the tedious Left that loves redistribution and collectivism or the fraudulent Right that is completely blind to the impossibility of reconciling war and nationalism with the true American spirit of freedom.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people. — Thomas Jefferson

Note! The Libertarian Quotes blog has moved to!

Leave no authority existing not responsible to the people. — Thomas Jefferson

Question Authority: Always and Forever Hereafter

By William Buppert

For some time, I have been trying to figure out why the nation and we as individuals are in the fix we are in now. Many reasons manifest themselves. We labor under a government of such monstrous reach and epic incompetence that it makes the Soviets now look like a paragon of efficiency and probity. We suffer under a ruling class that has not simply been a gangster government under Obamunism but has been this way since the defeat of the original Constitution in 1865. With each illegitimate war since 1898, the power of the Federal government has increased exponentially. With each manufactured crisis, liberties and freedoms have withered and died. This is simply the latest and greatest improvement in the ongoing process of our overseers to find emerging ways to increase the output of our slavery.

I have alluded before that we live in the country and have occasion to run across orphaned animals. We have horses and chickens and other assorted animals on the Circle A Ranch. My wife happens to be a fantastic gardener and the reincarnation of Dr. Doolittle. We discovered by following the horrid cacophony of rabbit screams three orphaned cottontails, two of which promptly died. My wife is now nursing the survivor and hoping to brighten his life expectancy in this mortal coil. As is her wont, she is an inveterate researcher and proceeded to go on the ’net and search out advice on care and feeding of a rabbit which is not one of our areas of husbandry expertise. What struck her were the countless admonitions to seek government assistance and report it to wildlife "authorities" or the zoo. I look around and converse with colleagues and associates to find my fellow Americans increasingly frightened or unfamiliar with doing anything without someone’s permission. Whether at work or play, we:

* obey speed limits that have nothing do with safety and simply provide revenue to our rulers
* pay property taxes which inevitably increase the yoke around our necks locally and pay for the intellectual suicide pact call government schooling
* pay extraordinary sales taxes on local and state purchases to subsidize the countless layers of bureaucracy that choke citizen and business productivity everyday
* stop locally at a US Border Patrol checkpoint nearly twenty miles north of the Mexican border to be asked if we are American citizens and a visual check of the interior of our vehicles
* sit idly by while the various levels of government erect observation devices at traffic intersections to increase revenue streams
* receive property tax bills on our real estate which increase in assessment while market prices decrease
* are required to have permission from the US Forest Circus or National Park Service to hunt, play or work on lands expropriated by our betters in government

I have discovered the silver bullet and it is from the University of the Intuitively Obvious: question authority and maintain a skeptical attitude about all facets of government and governance. That’s it…simple. Even those of us who have invested considerable intellectual heavy-lifting in discerning why the government in all its consistent brutality and blood-raged destruction commands such a loyal and slavish quality in men are baffled by the absence of this simple epistemological tool to ask why on a consistent basis from stem to stern. If enough vigilance is maintained at the outset and embryonic stages of so much government mischief, much of the madness could be strangled in its statist cradle through peaceful discourse, non-compliance, shunning and development of innovative strategies to sabotage the government’s machinations. Most government programs start out with promises of nirvana and positive outcomes but the history of man shows that this is essentially iatrogenic and hubristic. The state is a violent actor by necessity to preserve its power and expand it, so inevitably the promises dissolve into a nightmarish brew of incompetence, lethality and baleful societal consequences and we are stuck with the myriad Frankenstein monsters shambling about with the vague promises of eternal goodness and heaven on earth.

One may say that the horse is out of the barn and we are truly stuck with the state of affairs and no amount of reform will fix DC and its loyal minions at this stage of their maturation and dominance and you would be correct. The rub is this: the FEDGOD will fall and it will be in the next 12–24 months and much like the USSR, it will perish of its own internal Marxoid contradictions. Foreign wars, self-induced economic calamity and sheer naked arrogance will force it to fold and dissolve as a ruling elite. This is a window that rarely opens and the opportunities will be tremendous – for both sides. The furloughed politicos will spread their contagion when they flee the ruins of the DC power structure and seek to encourage the usual suspects among government workers and gullible subjects to help resurrect this monstrosity that has been astride our necks like a decomposing albatross. Truth serum will be necessary and that all starts with the kind of skepticism and incredulity that seems to characterize most everything we do except our attitude toward our rulers. Cross-examination is the engine of truth. Question every bit of alleged government authority which emerges from the ashes. This is one reason Thomas Jefferson was agitating for constant revolt for the tree of liberty. Government is a fungal growth that cannot be checked without constantly striking the root and taking whatever measures are necessary to curb its growth.

You won’t find this kind of critical thinking taught in the universities or any facet of the school systems because skepticism and clear thinking will be the end of them and the whole rotting mold growth choking American civilization called government. When was the last time you saw a government sponsored university study which called for the reduction and/or elimination of a statist rule or department? You don’t have to be a philosophy major or graduate to realize that Socratic drilling works. This is simply the process where you repeatedly ask why to a set of explanations until either you are satisfied the meritorious answer has been given or the shoddy intellectual construction is bared for all to see. It bears repeating: the entire artifice of the state is based on the threat or employment of violence to meet its ends, so it is morally illegitimate and reprehensible from the starting blocks. You have the moral high ground because all government for the most part is an elaborate shell game to develop proxy relationships with servant classes who obey at the urging of a lash or worse for the material and power benefit of the ruling class. Wake up, helots!

This is the chance we have. A dozen, fifty or hundreds of resistance and secessionist entities are going to move into the vacuum left by the great sucking abyss of the FEDGOD collapse. Hundreds of laboratories will emerge to test every variant of political collective and ordered enterprise imaginable. I have little hope for the subjects and somnambulant mental zombies that stumble around the cities of the Left Coast and the Northeast (Vermont and New Hampshire excepted) will do anymore other than instantly resurrect facsimiles of DC patterns of rule and other processes of national socialism but between the Marxist coastlines; the life and times of ordinary Americans will take extraordinary turns to develop from scratch freedom-oriented communities and spasms of spontaneous order. People may finally awaken and look at their neighbors and try to do the right thing. They may seek a system that asks, persuades and cooperates instead of bullies, collectivizes and forces through violent means the shape and texture of human relationships. They will be the vanguard of the men and women who finally awaken from the five millennia fever-dream of enabling various strangers the power of life and death over thousands and millions simply because they have surrendered the most basic right of all; leave us the hell alone.

Turn off the television, grab a book(s) and have conversations with family and like-minded friends. Go out and do things. Start a garden, fix your fencing, move to the country and reach out to the community you live in. Open your mind to the possibilities before us. Most of all, question every aspect of your relationship with authority. Does it derive from fear or respect? Does it emanate from first-hand experience or second-hand knowledge? How many times have you truly asked why a certain bureaucratic edict must be followed? More importantly, what is your line in the sand where your servitude stops and your resistance begins? Just say no to big government. Once a man establishes his limitations for tolerance of interference in his life and adopts a resolute stand against the forces buffeting him against his will, the world will change.

If you are still reading this, you are the Resistance.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New Site for Libertarian Quotes!

Libertarian Quotes has a new home on the web! We now have a new website located at which is highly upgraded and should serve much better.

Please update your bookmarks, feed readers, and any other references you have to the site. Sorry for the inconvenience and please share your thoughts on the new site in the comments!