Showing posts with label Lew Rockwell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lew Rockwell. Show all posts

2/02/2015

Secession, Slavery and the Civil War: Causation, Correlation or Mass Confusion?


The Ludwig von Mises Institute recently hosted their annual get together in Houston on the heroically controversial theme of secession.  Mises Institute President Jeff Deist opened the morning with a speech advising us to secede in our local capacity, starting at the individual level.  Dr. Brian McClanahan detailed America's rich history of secession, from the 13 colonies' war of secession from Great Britain to Texas' war of secession against Mexico.  Lew Rockwell contrasted the rich libertarian history of secession to the regime libertarians' knee-jerk reaction to such an unapproved opinion.  After lunch, New York Times best-selling author Tom Woods highlighted the absurdity of viewing secession as blasphemous while the decision to kill half a million children is a matter of public policy.  Finally, Dr. Ron Paul closed out the afternoon by speaking of secession as just one tool to be used in the greater contest for liberty.

It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with so many like-minded people from all over the country that chose to travel long distances for a one-day seminar on a topic that is viewed by the mainstream as antiquated and unorthodox at best.  In retrospect, the most amazing part of the event is how we were able to have a rational, thoughtful dialogue on this topic without ever bringing up the elephant in the room: slavery and the civil war.  It's like we all took it for granted that everyone was familiar with the works of authors like DiLorenzo and didn't need to rehash the history taught in public schools that Lincoln heroically fought the civil war to free the slaves and save the Union against the traitorous secessionists of the South.  We didn't need to waste time analyzing that myth; we could immediately jump to more productive and enlightening dialogue.

However, the sad reality many of us faced traveling home was that it is nearly impossible to continue that rational conversation on the merits and challenges of secession with most of our coworkers, friends and family.  Raise the specter of secession and the Pavlovian responses of "racism", "slavery" and even "neo-confederate" predictably follow.  But what else should we expect in a society with 12+ years of government indoctrination and a mainstream media that foams at the mouth and is undeniably dishonest when someone has the gall to question the necessity of the war considering that slavery was peaceably ended in every other country without requiring the loss of 620,000 lives and billions in damages and debt.

The civil war was fought to free the slaves.  The secessionists were traitors.  These are the commonly held myths we must dismantle before the rest of society can join us in a reasonable and common-sense discussion on the right of secession.

Why was the Civil War fought?

The government-approved history of the Civil War goes something like this: the Southern states illegally seceded from the United States to protect their institution of slavery.  This prompted a Civil War, causing a tremendous loss of life and property on both sides, but ultimately ending with Lincoln fulfilling his quest by preserving the Union and freeing the slaves.

This narrative may seem undisputable but it suffers from fatal errors once you scratch the surface.  On the first point concerning the cause of secession there is no major disagreement.  While the Southern states did have grievances against the Federal Government like protective tariffs that unfairly benefited the North at the expense of the South, the major reason cited in the state's secession documents was the issue of slavery.  Thomas Fleming's A Disease in the Public Mind points to the colliding forces of unrelenting abolitionism in the North and the South's fear of a race war which made it impossible to find an agreeable end to the system of slavery.

So while seven of the Southern states seceded over the slavery issue, the reason for the war given by Lincoln himself was not slavery, but to prevent secession.  As Lincoln repeatedly said,
"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.  What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."
Lincoln made this point numerous times such that it cannot be directly challenged by regime historians, but what happens instead is a logical fallacy built under the guise of the familiar mathematical axiom that if a = b and b = c, then a = c.  In other words, "if the cause of secession was slavery, and to prevent secession was the reason for the war, then the reason for the war was slavery".  This may seem a trivial point, but it is imperative that the undisputed good of ending slavery is not used to cloud our judgment when considering the true motivations for the ugly and brutal war that preceded it.  Any fantasy that the North was fighting a war of racial justice must be dismantled so that we can objectively look at the agreed upon reason for the war, secession, in an unbiased light.

First of all, if the Civil War was about slavery, why would there have been 7 slave states that stayed loyal to the Union while the Confederacy was formed?  The fact is, the people of the North were largely no better or even worse than the southerners when it came to racial equality.  The Northerners enforced fugitive slave laws, kept child slaves for 25+ years during manumission, denied free blacks suffrage, and generally did all they could to make their states white only.  Conversely, Fleming noted that only a small minority of Southern men owned slaves or otherwise had a direct financial incentive in the practice - so why would they fight over it and risk their lives and everything they owned?  The simple answer is they wouldn't.  So what would they fight for?  Of the seven slave states that originally stayed in the Union, four of those states only seceded after Lincoln had put out calls to raise an army of invasion and the first shots were fired at Ft. Sumter.  If it war was over slavery, can we imagine that Lincoln would have called it quits if the seceded states had freed their slaves?  Of course not!  It wasn't slavery that drove Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee out; Lincoln made it clear he had no quarrel with that institution in any loyal state.  They joined the confederacy and fought out of disbelief that Lincoln would declare war and invade the southern states which they believed had every right to peaceably withdraw from their government, just as their great-grandfathers had done 90 years earlier from King George III.  It might have been slavery that prompted the first 7 states to leave, but that's not why 11 states fought a long and brutal war - they fought for self-government.

Unbelievably, it is the fine print of the Emancipation Proclamation itself that best shines a light on the dubious claim that Lincoln freed the slaves.  Proving Lincoln to be the master politician, that document only applied to the states in rebellion, specifically exempting the states that had stayed loyal! So the slaves that Lincoln had the power to free were to remain slaves, but he supposedly freed the slaves in states that had already left the Union and formed their own country.  H.L. Mencken said it best,
"Even his handling of the slavery question was that of a politician, not that of a messiah... An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipation Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull Run.  But Lincoln waited until the time was more favorable - until Lee had been hurled out of Pennsylvania, and more important still, until the political currents were safely running his way.  Even so, he freed the slaves in only a part of the country: all the rest continued to clank their chains until he himself was an angel in Heaven."
Ultimately, there are many contending theories of precisely why the Federal government invaded the Confederacy.  While Thomas Fleming discusses the "diseases in the public mind" that fueled the Civil War, Thomas DiLorenzo unmasks the real Lincoln, showing how his ideology favoring a strong central state led him to launch an unnecessary and illegal war to destroy the doctrine of state's rights.  John Avery Emison takes just about everything we were taught about the Civil War and turns it on its head, first showing us that it would be more accurate to call it America's second war of secession, and from there demonstrating how our first "total war" paved the way for the horrors of the 20th century's world wars and set the precedent for the most egregious violations of federal power today.  As if it couldn't get any worse, John Graham makes the case that it wasn't historical accidents that caused the War for Southern Independence, but "antagonisms… deliberately agitated during the 1850s by great international banking houses with a preconceived motive of provoking secession" to generate unpayable debts and establish the financial empire that still rules this country.  Regardless of these various theories, we should all be able to agree with Walter Williams when he unequivocally states, the Civil War wasn't about slavery.

Were the Secessionists traitors?


With the end of slavery properly understood as a happy by-product of the Civil War, but not at all the reason that 620,000 fought and died, we can examine the legitimacy of the war through fresh eyes.  Was Lincoln justified in waging a war against the Confederacy to preserve the Union, and just what did he preserve?

First, it might be instructive to take a step back and examine the points made by Emison concerning just what we should call this decisive event in American history.  Unlike the civil war in Spain, the American Civil War was not a battle of two competing factions fighting for control over a common central government.  The Southern states had no dictates to the North, no terms other than to be left alone.  Jefferson Davis even sent a peace delegation to promote friendly ties between the two countries, which Lincoln refused to see.  So what do we call a war when one side has formally withdrawn and entered into a state of self-government and the other side invades that country to bring it into submission?  A war of independence or a war for secession certainly fits the historical circumstances better than a civil war.

At this point our government indoctrination might be kicking in - am I possibly making the argument that the traitorous South had the moral high ground in this war, the exact opposite of what the victorious Federal Government has led us to believe?  Indeed, Murray Rothbard concluded that there are only two American wars that have met the criteria for a "just war", that being the first war of secession against Great Britain, and the second war of secession of the Southern states.

But how could this be?  The Southern states seceded for slavery, the act of depriving individuals from exercising their free will, one of the greatest crimes that man can commit.  Doesn't this fact tarnish secession?  But consider the reverse scenario.  If secession is to be judged by the worst vices of those that endorsed it, shouldn’t we also look at the crimes of those that did not believe in secession but instead in an all-powerful central government?  Adolf Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf that secession was illegal because "it was the Union which formed a great part of such so-called states."  Similarly, the violence wrecked by omnipotent central governments that were no fans of secession counts some 200 million dead in the 20th century alone.


Rather than only focusing on the worst qualities of those that believed in secession, let's recall that one of our most famous founding fathers was explicitly in favor of secession and nullification to combat the growth of centralized government in the Principles of '98.  Thomas Jefferson postulated that it was "not very important to the happiness of either part" of the country if the United States broke up.  In a live and let live fashion, he said that in separation "God bless them both, and keep them in the union if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better".

At the time Lincoln invaded the South there were five living ex-presidents, every one of which opposed the war in one way or another.  Some did not agree with the decision to secede and did their best to convince the Southern states to remain in the Union, but they ultimately believed in the right of secession.  After all, Vermont seceded from New York, Texas seceded from Mexico, and West Virginia seceded from Virginia during the Civil War itself.  And as previously mentioned, the United States itself seceded from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War.  You'd think that would count for something.

Historical precedents aside, we can also look at this logically and constitutionally.  An established precedent of law is known as legislative entrenchment, meaning that what one legislative body has the power to do, another can do or undo.  A prior legislative body cannot rule from the grave and if the state legislature of 1787 has the power to ratify the constitution, so then can the state legislature of 1861 choose to repeal that ratification.  Indeed, Virginia's secession document explicitly stated it was a lawful repeal of the ratification of the Constitution.  Can we imagine that the 13 colonies, having just had their full sovereign nature individually acknowledged by Great Britain, really joined a union that they could never leave?  Every historical precedent from the federalist papers to the state ratifying conventions says otherwise.

The Southern states were not traitorous when they seceded; they had every right to do so.  The only traitor was Lincoln, who declared war without congressional approval and violated a hundred other constitutional provisions and laws of human decency in his battle to "preserve the Union".  He may have reclaimed the Southern states as captured provinces, but he certainly didn't preserve our republic.  What we had was a voluntary association of independent states united under the contract of the Constitution.  Lincoln's war of aggression most assuredly killed that system of government for all the states, replacing it with the federal leviathan that knows no boundaries and gives no thought to the consent of the governed.  He won the war and we still suffer the losses.

What is Secession?

Secession - it was the foundation of the American Revolution against King George III.  Even today, it is the most radical concept of the last 500 years.  As stated in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, when a government is destructive to the ends of the people that created it, it is their duty to institute a new government.  That wasn't an idle threat; secession is the means to do so.  It is the true enforcement mechanism to ensure that we have government by consent.

Just think of what a glorious preventative check the threat of secession is to the limitless goals of our federal masters.  Imagine the contrast with a "marriage union".  Even though it is a document signed "till death do us part", all modern states recognize the right of divorce, the equivalent of secession.  As Emison questioned, would an abusive husband treat his wife better or worse in a society where divorce was legal or illegal?  The question answers itself, and it also explains why the federal government is able to propose increasingly egregious legislation on battered, defenseless states that have nowhere to run and no hope of retaliation.

How bizarre that in a country founded on the principle of secession time has allowed this cornerstone of liberty and bedrock of freedom to be marginalized and disgraced.  After all, as Tom Woods noted in his speech at the Mises Circle, its practical effect is nothing more than to say, "maybe this imaginary line should be drawn up here instead of over there."

Lew Rockwell defined secession in more human terms, reminding us of the moral obligation we have to our fellow men and the responsibility we carry when we endorse our political agents to carry out violence in our name.  He summed up the the libertarian perspective this way:
"It is morally illegitimate to employ state violence against individuals who choose to group themselves differently from how the existing regime chooses to group them. They prefer to live under a different jurisdiction. Libertarians consider it unacceptable to aggress against them for this."
View the right of secession as a moral imperative to not aggress against others that want to go in peace.  Recognize the arbitrary nature of all government boundaries and the absurdity in going into hysterics if one of those lines should change.  Acknowledge secession as the foundation of this very country and think of how it could be a very realistic solution to the issues we face today.  But above all, rescue secession from the dustbin of history that ignorance has placed it.  Secession is a noble, practical and moral idea that deserves our attention and respect.

Conclusion


Around the world people want freedom and if they can't have that, a more representative government will do.  The CIA and military industrial complex provides us with all kinds of "approved" secessions and revolutions around the world from despots who have inexplicably leaped from the ally to the enemy category - but dare suggest that Texas may be better of seceding if the federal government continues its unsustainable path, or that the citizens of California would be better represented if certain counties seceded to create new states - well you must be a closet racist!  This hypocrisy and doublethink can’t go on forever.

As Thomas DiLorenzo recently documented, secession is a global phenomenon that isn't going away:
"There are 32 secessionist movements in Africa; 114 secessionist movements in Europe; 20 secessionist movements in North America; 83 secessionist movements in Asia; 11 secessionist movements in South America; and 26 secessionist movements in Oceania.  Neo-Confederates are everywhere!"
However, the most exciting thing about secession isn't just the prospect of replacing one government with another one, but the larger philosophical impact for the libertarian movement.  Followed to its logical conclusion, when the state can secede from the country, and the county from the state, and the town from the county, we can envision a practical path to our anarcho-capitalist utopia.  But ultimately, if the right of secession is accepted and respected, we could imagine a government that has an actual incentive to stay within its delegated boundaries, a government that actually serves its supposed purpose of contributing to the happiness of the people instead of to their destruction.  It may be impossible to keep the state with its monopoly on violence within the boundaries set by those that consented to its jurisdiction, but if it were to be possible, it is certainly only so in a society where the right of secession is alive and well.  Let us fight to create such a society, not through violence - that is the government’s specialty, but in the war of ideas.

5/31/2014

A Libertarian Party Platform for Libertarians

I recently spent a weekend locked in an Indianapolis Hotel with 20 other libertarians from around the country.  We were either appointed by the Libertarian National Committee or sent as delegates from our state parties to create a report of recommended changes to the Libertarian Party Platform to be submitted to the delegates at the upcoming national convention.  Organized within the framework of Roberts Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure, we debated how libertarian principles, policy recommendations and marketing strategy should guide our party platform.  While serious points of contention revolved around grammar, style and the use of oxford commas, there were many fierce debates that got to the heart of what libertarianism is and isn't, putting our very name on the line.

I volunteered to be the representative for the Texas Libertarian Party not because I feel passionate about any particular planks I want to see changed in the current platform, but because I pretty much like it the way it is.  I've previously written on the dilemma that many principled libertarians face, which is whether or not to vote or otherwise engage in the political process.  The authors that contribute to the best-read libertarian website in the world seem to be almost unanimous in condemning political action, even within the LP.  I'm of the opinion that as long as the Libertarian Party does not misrepresent their core message to appeal to the masses and truly deserves the name "the party of principle" then the majority of the arguments against joining and supporting the LP don't hold water.

This gets to the heart of another topic on which I've written, whether the Libertarian Party should take a principled or a practical approach in the political process.  This foundational decision has many implications that don't always fall down the anarchist vs. minarchist party line.  What is the primary purpose of the Libertarian Party, to spread libertarianism or to get candidates elected?  Who is our target audience, libertarians or non-libertarians?  God help us, there are some that even disagree on what libertarianism is!  Only when those questions are answered do you have the framework for creating a cohesive and consistent Libertarian Party Platform - and when the delegates and leaders of the party are sharply divided on these issues we are setting ourselves up for some interesting debates in June.

What is Libertarianism?

George Orwell prophetically wrote on how language and the meaning of words can be used as a weapon in the political arena.  If you are able to influence culture enough to change or confuse the meaning of words you can thereby narrow the spectrum of allowable opinion and guide the masses without them ever realizing it.  One example of this phenomenon is the term liberal.  Thomas Jefferson's liberalism aligned to small governments, free markets, and natural rights while today's liberal supports big government, economic regulations, and privileges granted by "society".

Taking this lesson from history to heart, it is vitally important for the libertarian movement to not allow our brand to be misrepresented.  Without assigning motives to people I don't know, there are some trying to expand the term libertarianism to include things with which it has no concern, thereby diluting the core message into meaninglessness and creating contradictions where there should be none.

Quoting from a recent article by Laurence Vance on this very topic, "Libertarianism is a political philosophy concerned with the permissible use of force or violence."  But that can be said of all forms of government, as government is defined as a monopoly on the use of violence, and therefore the type of government you have guides how violence may be legally used.  Democracies adhere to majority rule, such that 51 people can vote to use violence against 49 others.  A Monarch can use violence against any of his subjects with impunity.  Under communist rule any individual can be aggressed upon if it benefits the commune in the eyes of the communist leadership.

Thus, Murray Rothbard defines libertarianism within this context:
“The only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal.  Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another.” 
That is all libertarianism is about: when you can and cannot use violence or the threat of violence.  Because of this limitation some criticize libertarianism for not being what it is not and has not ever been: a comprehensive moral philosophy.  Libertarians are typically characterized as sexists, racists, bigots, homophobes and elitists because we do not believe in outlawing these types of behaviors.  Libertarianism says what you must not do, not what you should do.  We stand for the freedom of association, including the freedom not to associate.  We stand for the freedom of speech, including unpopular speech.  We stand for self-ownership, including the right to do things to your body that may be harmful.  Because of our principled stance to always protect individual liberty, even when liberty is used in ways some may disagree with, we are painted as endorsing these vices.  However, libertarians have a wide range of non-aggressive responses to vices.  Unfortunately, in this day of omnipotent government there are only two options for any given behavior, it should either be forced or forbidden, both carrying the threat of being locked in a cage or worse for disobedience to the state.

It is one thing to find this misunderstanding to be pervasive among the average voter, but it is far more serious and disappointing when people calling themselves libertarians display this same ignorance towards the most fundamental concepts of their professed ideology.  Sometimes it may be from lack of knowledge but at other times it is a deliberate misrepresentation.  At the Libertarian Platform Committee meeting suggestions were made to add and remove language to our platform planks to make them more appealing to the voters.  There is nothing wrong with being brief instead of wordy, using plain words instead of libertarian-insider words, and using proven salesmanship approaches - but only as long as you do not distort your message in the process.

One misguided idea that came up several times was to add qualifying terms in reference to who could and could not exercise certain rights.  For instance, plank 1.6 Self-Defense very boldly defends the right of individuals to own and use firearms in self-defense and correctly calls out our opposition to all laws that would infringe upon this right.  This is as libertarian as it gets - the right to own property, including firearms, is only limited by the duty not to infringe on the equal rights of others and any action to pre-emptively violate this right is itself an aggressive, unjust, and criminal action. Despite my best protests the committee voted to recommend a change in the current language from "individual" to "peaceful adult".  This might seem like a sensible substitution that doesn't materially change the plank, but let's explore the ramifications of this seemingly innocuous appeal to common-sense.

When we say that a right can only be exercised by a "peaceful adult" or use any other qualification it ceases to be a right and becomes a privilege.  The new language didn't say the use of firearms must be peaceful, that would be implied by the term "self-defense".  It described the type of individual who may exercise this right without prior-restraint through law.  Now we must define what is "peaceful" and what makes someone an "adult".  We are a political party concerned with the use of violence, so when we qualify a right in our capacity as libertarians we are not strictly speaking of the criteria we would impose in our private lives.  We're not simply saying, "it's a good idea for gun owners to have a history of being peaceful and mature enough to know the impacts of their decisions with firearms."  We are saying that only "peaceful adults" may exercise the "right" to gun-ownership, and others will be violently prevented from doing so.  When we beg the question of what is peaceful and don’t define it ourselves we are implying that government will define the answer - and today that answer is non-felons. When scholars report that the average person commits 3 felonies a day, tens of thousands of which are non-violent, we end up nullifying our entire plank with those two simple adjectives.  But even if we narrow our lens to felons with a history of violence, I believe that once they are freed from their cages they regain their right to own firearms and use them in self-defense.  In other words, I think that the current system whereby a mistake when you're 18 means you can't defend yourself or your family for the rest of your life is unjust and patently un-libertarian.  When you don't defend the rights of the marginal groups of society you strip those rights from everyone.  If this change is adopted it amounts to us saying that we defend the right of gun-ownership for some individuals, as long as the government says it's OK.  That is hardly a stance worthy of the name "the party of principle".


What is the Libertarian Party?

When all the libertarians in the LP understand the implications of our principles and are willing to defend them, even the unpopular ones, we still have some big questions to answer in the realm of tactics and strategy.  How do we market ourselves?  Who do we market to?  What are our goals?  These questions have very real impacts to how one constructs a party platform.

I believe that our primary goal is to spread libertarianism.  Unlike other libertarian groups that share this same goal, we explicitly use the political process, the political party, and candidates for political office as the channels for our message.  Every voting season there are millions of dollars worth of free publicity in newspapers, radio, and television.  Considering that libertarians are characterized for annoyingly pushing their message to unreceptive hosts at social gatherings, we must take advantage of every opportunity when we have an invitation to talk about libertarianism.  Journalists and special interest groups will invite libertarian candidates to speak to them and explain what libertarianism is and how it would solve our problems - and the only cost for this unprecedented opportunity is the time to fill out some paper work!

With our primary goal of spreading libertarianism and our means of the political process established our secondary goals naturally follow.  First, we need brave souls willing to run for office.  Candidates can spread libertarianism by speaking to voter groups, being interviewed by the press, and participating in debates.  In order to magnify the candidate's impact libertarian activists can help with their time and money.  This can take the form of block-walking a voting district, helping with a phone banking initiative, writing letters to the editor, or merely talking to friends and co-workers about why they are voting for the libertarian candidate when that question naturally arises.  For those that are short on time to donate, money can be used to buy advertising, mailers, yard signs, voter lists, and automated calling services.  Unfortunately, both time and money are needed in many states to collect signatures and fight lawsuits to get libertarians on the ballet, but this is worthwhile because it is a prerequisite to our means of engaging in the political process to achieve our goal of spreading libertarianism.

In order for the LP to do justice to the term libertarianism this prioritization of goals must be adhered to.  Unfortunately, a sizable number disagree with this approach.  During the Platform Committee meeting one member stated "I don't care about educating people, I want to get elected so I can make a difference."  Another member explicitly stated that the #1 goal of the LP should be to get candidates elected and pointed to the Indiana LP's "purpose and principles" as a reference, which states, "The mission of the Libertarian Party is to move public policy in a libertarian direction by electing candidates of the Libertarian Party to public office."

Let's consider the implication of this reversal of priority.  If the primary mission is to get candidates elected then any secondary goals must necessarily align with the primary goal or be sacrificed, by definition.  So if the voting population is not ready to accept the message of libertarianism, if a candidate who promotes a libertarian message cannot win a majority vote, then the candidate's message must be "softened" to increase the odds of electability.  But now we find ourselves indistinguishable from candidates of the two major parties - power hungry office-seekers who have no core beliefs but will modify their positions at the drop of a hat based on the latest polls.

Maybe that's a little harsh, but it is the logical implication of setting the primary goal as "winning".  As the saying goes, if we sacrifice our message we are more likely to lose twice, first because we won't win the election and second because we won't get our message out.

But let's suppose we do elect candidates with this "sneak attack" method.  Assume we have candidates who will adhere to their libertarian principles once in office but will water down their message when electioneering in order to trick the majority into giving them their vote.  In this scenario the elected closet-libertarians reveal their true intentions after taking office, after which they immediately roll back government excess and increase liberty in their district, in other words, "making a difference".  Based on the prosperity, peace, and other social goods that libertarianism provides, the voters then reflect that libertarianism is pretty great after all and are converted based on the experience of libertarianism, rather than by rhetoric and logic in the abstract.

In the best case scenario we can see this is a short term victory.  If we gain libertarians that like the utilitarian benefits of liberty but do not understand how the principles of self-ownership and non-aggression are the logical and economic pre-requisites, then have we really created an ally that's in for the long haul?  What happens when the opposing party promises more goodies?  Without the foundational understanding and truly creating a change in thinking and culture the best we could hope for is a few years of material improvement before regressing back to our current predicament.

But that thought experiment assumed something that would never happen in the first place.  A "liberty friendly" message that avoids the logical consequences of libertarianism for reasons of political expediency will never win under the banner of the Libertarian Party.  Wayne Alan Root was the most visible proponent of this "big tent" strategy, where he openly called for only appealing to disgruntled republicans and avoiding our beliefs that would not align with this voter block.  I attended Freedom Summit in 2009 where Judge John Buttrick debated this strategy head-on and pointed out its flaws.

Judge Buttrick's most compelling argument appealed to common sense and asked us to put ourselves in the position of a liberty-friendly disgruntled-republican.  Given all the options for spending one's time and energy, in what vehicle will such a person get the greatest returns for their activism buck?  Will they go to a party that fights to get more than 1% of the vote in a Presidential election and hasn't earned an electoral vote since 1972? Clearly not.  They will join Ron Paul and work to reform the Republican Party from the inside.

Making the primary goal of the LP to "get candidates elected" is a death-sentence for our party.  Not only will it cause us to fail in what our mission should be, to spread our message and increase the number of libertarians, but it will also never be successful in getting candidates elected by misleading the public into giving us their vote.  As Lew Rockwell pointed out in his essay what libertarianism is and isn't, "if we expect to trick people into becoming libertarians, we will fail."  Instead of trying to appeal to the masses we should stick to our principles, even the unpopular ones.  This leads me to a novel idea: the Libertarian Party should focus on libertarians.

Guiding Principles for a Libertarian Party Platform

Some believe libertarianism should include things that don't pertain to the permissible use of violence but fall in the category of fairness and egalitarianism.  A sizable number of LP leaders believe the primary goal of the Libertarian Party is to get candidates elected so we can pass bills and "get things done".  Both of these beliefs directly impact how one approaches what the LP party platform should contain, how it should be written, and who it should cater to.  For those that share my position about libertarianism and the Libertarian Party, I offer the following principles that drove my thought process when serving on the LP platform committee and will guide my voting at the convention this June.

Platform planks should logically flow from self-ownership and non-aggression.  Why do we oppose the war on drugs?  For the same reason we oppose taxation.  It's the same reason we support freedom of speech, the right to contract, and the right to associate: self-ownership and non-aggression.  There are plenty of causes, beliefs, and opinions that libertarians hold in their private lives but if they do not pertain to the use of violence in society they should be left out of our platform.  Yes, individual libertarians may believe that it is moral to donate to charity, offer fair wages, and operate without discrimination, but unless we are opposing government violence from forcing us to do these things we have nothing to say in our capacity as libertarians concerning what individuals should do in their private lives.

Platform planks should speak to timeless principles, not to specific policies or bills.  We are against aggression, and therefore theft, and therefore taxation.  We are not for "the fair tax", the "50 payer tax", excise taxes, or other taxes that would be less bad than what we currently have.  As individuals or even as candidates we might support these half-measures to ease our suffering.  However, we'd support them not in our capacity as libertarians, but as victims of current aggression that we would like to be relieved of, if even partially.  We are in the position of a concentration camp victim that would gladly take the opportunity to sign up for work under the supervision of a sympathetic guard instead of a psychopathic one known for his cruelty.  In this way we are not confusing the libertarian message by claiming that we are for "low taxes" when libertarianism is logically opposed to all forms of taxation.

Platform planks may be aligned with the Constitution, but that is not why we support them.  We are not the Constitution Party, we are the Libertarian Party.  It is one thing to say "Libertarians support the rights recognized by the Fourth Amendment", it is another to say that we support the Constitution unilaterally or to imply that we support a right because it is in the Constitution.  We don't need a piece of paper to guide our decisions, we have something far more powerful.

Abide by the Dallas Accord.  Frankly, non-aggression and government are polar opposites.  The only permissible "government" that would be logically consistent with libertarian principles is one where all services would be paid for voluntarily and any violence executed would be defensive in nature.  Of course, one could argue that in that case you are no longer describing governments but private businesses that are in the defense and arbitration industry.  It seems a fair compromise to ignore this bit of double-think in exchange for remaining silent on the need or "legitimate purpose" of governments and always allowing for an interpretation of no government without saying so explicitly.  Not everyone is ready to go full-blown an-cap so we should welcome the minarchists by allowing for the fantasy of the non-coercive "government".  At the same time, we should not turn away our most logically-consistent and principled demographic, the anarchists.

Golden rule: don't make candidates oppose the platform.  Some candidates might only support a bill that would repeal a tax completely, some might vote for one that would reduce taxation, but both operate under the same principle that taxation is inherently immoral and un-libertarian.  Some candidates might rest easy with a night-watchman state and others may not be satisfied until we live in our anarcho-capitalist paradise, but both can agree on the maximum role of government, because technically, a maximum without a minimum can give us a role of nothing.  The goal is to give libertarians a platform that teaches by example how our principles of self-ownership and non-aggression logically guide us to all of our policy positions, and from there give candidates the freedom to get more specific within the guidelines we've set.  Because the principles of liberty are timeless, an ideal platform would be as relevant and powerful 100 years from now as today.

Conclusion

The positions I've set forth would cause some to label me a "purist".  While I proudly wear that badge of honor, there is unfortunately some truth to the negative connotation that comes with it.  Many of the "purists" lack basic tact and social skills to such an extent that it seems they might actually enjoy arguing with people just for the sake of disagreeing.  If talking to a democrat they'll talk about gun rights, if talking to a republican they'll bring up gay marriage.  Instead of finding common ground and educating, they will latch on to the biggest point of contention and revel in being marginalized.

It doesn't have to be this way.  This is not a black or white issue.  It is a false choice between upholding a pure and consistent libertarian message and adhering to basic social etiquette.  We can utilize proven persuasion and marketing skills when speaking to the public without watering down our message and confusing our brand.

Having spent two years as a door to door salesman, and currently working in the consulting field, I have a few suggestions that apply to all areas of sales, including selling the message of libertarianism.

Instead of talking, listen.  Try to do twice as much listening as talking.  Then three times as much, then four.  The harder this is for you, the more important it is to work on it.  If your goal is truly to wake up minds and change people's perspective, you first need to make them feel understood before they will actually hear your feedback.

Speak their language.  In other words, be adaptive to their interests.  It's perfectly alright to talk about "fiscally conservative" issues with republicans and "socially tolerant" issues with democrats.  The opportunity to educate comes with first finding that common ground and using that as an opportunity to explain how the principles of self-ownership and non-aggression align with their beliefs.

People hate to be sold, but they love to buy.  This has a lot to do with listening instead of talking.  Don’t push your ideas on people.  You may be 100% correct, but if the other person isn't listening to you because they feel like they are being sold something against their will then what good does it do?.  Ask questions, then listen to what the other person has to say.  What do they think about a certain problem that they are passionate about?  Why do they think it occurs?  What do they think should be done about it?  If the answer is "there should be a law against it" then the answer isn't to call them a statist.  Ultimately this person has the same end goals as everyone else - peace, prosperity and a higher standard of living.  When you find the opportunity to answer a question and explain how libertarian principles result in these social goods, you have created the condition where they might just want to buy what you have to sell.

Ultimately, the biggest lesson I've learned in my activism career is that the only person I can educate is myself.  Oftentimes when someone "wakes up" to the libertarian message they are so excited by this new world view that nothing seems more important than sharing this epiphany with everyone, all the time. This urge, while commendable, should be resisted.  The first step is to educate yourself, not just on your pet issue that aligns with libertarianism, but on all of the hard cases too.  Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable is a classic libertarian book that takes up this challenge head-on.  Of course, Murray Rothbard's For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty are must-reads for setting the foundation and exploring the full spectrum of libertarianism.  When hard topics like environmental protection and child-labor comes up, we have the shoulders of intellectual giants at our disposal, and we would be foolish not to use them.

10/31/2012

Should Libertarians Vote Libertarian?

Should libertarians vote Libertarian?  You will never see a similar question seriously considered for any other political party.  A person who identifies himself as a "republican" is, by definition, someone who is engaged in the political process and will vote for the Republican Party.  Likewise for the self-identified democrat.  Democrats vote for the Democratic Party, and republicans vote for the Republican Party.  That's what they do.

Things aren't so simple for "small l" libertarians.  For a libertarian to join, promote, and vote for the Libertarian Party, both pragmatic and moral objections must be overcome.  A sampling of those objections could be found any day this October on Lewrockwell.com, the best-read libertarian website in the world.  "Vote for Liberty by Not Voting", "Voting, A Fool's Game!", and "Libertarians Should Vote for… No One" are all recent articles by libertarians I admire, and they all make excellent points that every thoughtful libertarian should consider before choosing whether or not to go to the ballot box this November.

Nevertheless, I have chosen to ironically take the characteristically libertarian minority position on this libertarian voting issue.  At the risk of failing a future libertarian purity test, I believe, with a few qualifications, that libertarians should vote for candidates of the Libertarian Party.

As hard as it is to group and categorize libertarians, I will target my message towards two distinct groups: the minarchists who are planning to vote for Mitt Romney or write in Ron Paul, and the anarchists who plan to abstain from voting altogether in order to sleep well at night knowing they did not give their endorsement to the state nor bring it additional legitimacy.

A Message to Ron Paul Revolutionaries and Libertarian Minarchists Working in the Republican Party

Libertarians are split into two camps, anarchists and minarchists.  The minarchists, believing in the legitimacy or expediency of a night-watchmen state, have no objection to engaging in the political process to work for smaller government.  For the minarchist, the biggest decision to make is where to get the most bang for your political activism buck.  Do you work to reform one of the two major parties to make it more liberty-friendly, or do you work to grow the Libertarian Party?

Forget the slogan, "liberty in our lifetime"; there are some that want liberty as soon as possible, preferably this election.  With that kind of goal, building up a no-compromise liberty-oriented party of principle by changing hearts and minds one at a time over years, if not decades, just isn't very attractive.  Ruling out a political party that has not received more than 1% of the presidential vote leaves these libertarian political activists with one real alternative: take over the Republican Party.

There are several appealing reasons that libertarians choose to work within the Republican Party instead of the Libertarian Party.  For many newcomers to libertarianism the reason is simple, the man that woke them up, Dr. Ron Paul, has used the Republican Party machinery very effectively to spread the message of liberty.  Inventing the "money bomb", starting the Tea Party, passing "Audit the Fed", breaking fundraising records and drawing crowds of thousands at college campuses are all praise-worthy accomplishments of Dr. Paul's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.  However, these quantitative achievements are mere reflections of the real reason to be excited: the thousands of people that have been converted to the libertarian cause or are at least more sympathetic to these ideas as a result of Dr. Paul's engagement in the political process.

So what shall we do after accomplishing so much? After the 2008 election Dr. Paul encouraged his followers to get involved in their local Republican Party, play by the rules, and make a difference in the next election.  In a fair and just world Dr. Paul would have been recognized for having achieved wins in several primary states, but instead, we saw the red team break every rule of their party platform and common decency in order to keep Ron from gaining momentum and causing division in their party.

So what now?  Some Ron Paul revolutionaries have become so wedded to the idea of taking over the red team that they are planning to vote for the red candidate, even if he's barely distinguishable from the dreaded blue candidate.  Maybe those that have begrudgingly joined team Romney don't want to seem like "sore losers", maybe some have endorsed Mitt to strengthen their future political careers, or maybe they really think that Mitt will be slightly better than Obama on some issues.

Whatever "lesser of two evils" logic some have adopted, let's keep in mind that it hasn't worked on Ron.  Dr. Paul has heroically abstained from endorsing his party's candidate, and at the same time has said some very nice things about Gary Johnson's campaign and encouraged his supporters to make their own choice this November.

I'm hoping you consider my message when you make this choice, and for you, my message is harsh but simple: Dr. Paul woke you up by using the Republican Party as a communication platform.  You were intrigued by his unique ideas during the debates, and maybe he turned you on to a few books on libertarianism and Austrian economics.  But do not confuse your admiration of Dr. Paul with allegiance to the Republican Party.  Remember that it is Lincoln's Party: a party of war, corporatism, and big government.

The Republican Party doesn't want your ideas of liberty or small government, and just forget about a non-interventionist foreign policy.  Yes they want your vote, but they don't want you.  They pay lip service to libertarian slogans and then make us all look like fools as they vote in bigger government then democrats could ever get away with.  The republicans are gambling that you fear Obama more than you love integrity.  They are hoping that you'd rather take the long road to serfdom rather than a principled stance that a slick-talking, flip-flopping, big-government republican will never get your vote.

So come home.  Come home to the Libertarian Party.  It's an uphill battle, but it will be a fun ride.  You'll be amongst like-minded people and won't have to rub shoulders with neo-cons and war-mongers.  Join a party that actually believes what you believe.  Don't get suckered into the empty promises of the red team.  They are playing you all for fools.

Now, for those minarchists who are planning on writing in 'Ron Paul'... What are you thinking?  If we had only the two major parties on the ballot then yes, I'd write in "Ron Paul", "Donald Duck", or "Lysander Spooner".  In that scenario I have no problem siding with H.L. Mencken and "vot[ing] on Artemus Ward's principle that if we can't have a live man who amounts to anything, by all means let's have a first-class corpse."

But we don't have only two choices.  We do have a sincere libertarian who will be on the ballot in all 50 states.  You don't need to throw your vote away in order to protest a corrupt and blatantly unfair election process.  If you want to cast a protest vote, by all means, cast that vote by voting against both sides of the big-government party, against the two wings of the same bird of prey, against the left and right boots stomping your face into the mud... vote for Gary Johnson.

Damn right we did.

A Message to Principled Anarchists

A friend who volunteers for the Libertarian Party once asked me, "if libertarians make up 5 - 10% of the United States population, then why can we never get more than 1% of the vote for the presidential election?".  I can answer his question with a joke, "What is the difference between a minarchist and an anarchist?"  "About 6 months."

In other words, just as fast as we gain new libertarians, those new converts become stricken with a disease of logical consistency.  At some point along the libertarian journey one comes to the realization that if private voluntary transactions on the free-market can bring us cell-phones, vegetables, and health-care better than theft, coercion, and organized violence, then perhaps security and arbitration services are additional candidates for privatization.  Now the last excuses for the night-watchmen state fall apart, and a man must make a choice between intellectual integrity and the risk of being labeled a Molotov-cocktail-throwing, v-for-vendetta-mask-wearing social delinquent.

Once you accept that the government that governs least governs best, and the least amount of governing is zero, then you have practical and moral considerations to make when it comes to engaging in the political process.  The moral question asks if one can be a principled and consistent libertarian anarchist while engaging in the political process.  The practical question is one of tactics: does my political activism support, endorse, legitimize, or provide a mandate for the very system that I would like to see eventually dismantled?  If I support a bill that will lower taxes, am I acknowledging that the state has a right to steal from me?  If I vote for a candidate who pledges to lower taxes, is my vote for a lower amount of theft endorsing theft nonetheless?

Many prominent libertarians certainly think so.  Consider this passage from "Vote for Liberty by Not Voting" by Daniel J Sanchez:
"...your vote helps provide a mandate for all of the elected officer’s policies, whether you support those policies or not.  As one author has said, voting "just encourages the bastards."

Furthermore, every vote for a federal office is a vote for the hyper-state known as the U.S. federal government, and for hyper-states in general.  It is effectively an endorsement of centralized power and a vote of no confidence in localism.  And yes, this would be true of a vote for a middling libertarian like Gary Johnson, or even an exceptionally heroic individual like Ron Paul.  True progress toward liberty cannot be achieved through the offices of a gargantuan state."

In "Voting: A Fool's Game!", Gary Barnett flips the conventional wisdom on its head, and argues that not only does voting legitimize the state, but it also forces you to accept the results and invalidates your grounds for complaining.
"Many libertarians think that voting is acceptable only if one votes for someone other than those in the two major parties, or someone who is a Democrat or Republican that is accepted by a majority of "libertarian type" individuals.  I disagree with this thinking entirely.  I disagree because even if a good man might run for high office, regardless of who wins, every single vote cast legitimizes not only the outcome, but also the very flawed political system itself.  This is not an option to my way of thinking, because libertarianism is based upon individual rights, and when voting is evident, the individual is abandoned.

Because voting supports the system, those who vote are obligated to accept the results.  To accept the results means to accept the system, and to accept the system, means to accept what that system produces.  What is produced in the governing system in the U.S. is based upon theft, coercion, police state force, and imprisonment, all for political gain.  The laws of the land written by those elected officials in this same system support this criminal activity, so by voting, one’s ability to complain is eliminated.  I do realize that this is the reverse of how many think, but it is the only logical position to take.

In my mind, not voting is the only way to denounce entirely the current political system, and to not give consent, implied or otherwise, to its evil ways."

Joel Poindexter's article "Libertarians Should Vote for… No One" mainly argues against voting for either of the two major candidates, which I am in perfect agreement with.  However, he seems to believe that voting for the Libertarian Party candidate won't accomplish as much as abstaining from voting entirely.
"... it should be noted that voting for another candidate – even one nominated by the Libertarian party – does little to stall, rollback, or smash the state, as should be every libertarian's goal.  Libertarians should instead avoid the polls, and convince as many others to do likewise."

While these are all thoughtful reason to abstain from voting, the best arguments against engaging in the sacrament of the political religion that I've read were in Larken Rose's excellent book The Most Dangerous Superstition.

On page 144 Mr. Rose gives us "The Libertarian Contradiction":
" trying to make it [the non-aggression principle] a reality via any political process is completely self-contradictory, because "government" and non-aggression are utterly incompatible.
...
Trying to convert libertarianism into a political movement requires a mangled, perverted hybrid of the two options: the idea that a system of domination ("government") can be used to achieve individual freedom.  Whenever a "libertarian" lobbies for legislation or runs for office, he is, by his own actions, conceding that "authority" and man-made "law" is legitimate.
...
There is a fundamental difference between arguing about what the master should do - which is what all "politics" consists of - and declaring that the master has no right to rule at all.  To be a libertarian candidate is to try to do both of these conflicting things.  It obviously legitimizes the office the candidate seeks to hold, even while the candidate is claiming to believe in the principles of non-aggression and self-ownership, which completely rule out the possibility of any legitimate "public office."  In short, if the goal is individual freedom, "political action" is not only worthless, it is hugely counter-productive, because the main thing it accomplishes is to legitimize the ruling class's power.
...
If enough people recognize and let go of the "authority" myth, there is no need for any election, any political action, or any revolution."

Answering the common objections in these passages in order from easiest to hardest, I'll first respond to the challenge that abstaining from voting is a more effective means of resistance to the state than voting for the Libertarian Candidate.

While it may make one feel warm and fuzzy to stay home on election day, the reality is this decision only hampers our ability to reach the masses.  Remember that the news cycle will not report that of the 36% of eligible voters that stayed at home, 8% of them were principled anarchists that have rejected the state and refuse to endorse it.  Instead they will report only the percentages of those that choose to vote, and the collective decision of libertarian non-voters to remain silent means that instead of getting 5%-10% and becoming a force to be reckoned with, we may never pass that embarrassing 1% barrier and our ideas will never be considered by the common man because of that stigma.

Next we have the argument of providing aid and comfort to the enemy.  The act of voting for anyone, even a libertarian, provides a mandate for all government officials, legitimizes their illegitimate power, provides endorsement of their crimes against humanity, and obligates you to accept the state in all of its horror.

If the choice were between the lesser of two evils, then I would absolutely agree.  But remember, we have a Libertarian Party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states!  Is Gary Johnson the reincarnation of Murray Rothbard?  He's far from it.  In fact, when I went to Las Vegas as a delegate I supported R. Lee Wrights because I felt he was a more principled candidate.  But that being admitted, it is grossly unfair to lump the LP in the same group as the blue and red wings of the big government party.  How better can you denounce the system then by voting for a candidate who has the polar opposite beliefs of that system's front men?  Everything they want to promote and expand, be it war, taxes, or the power of government itself, we want to decrease, eliminate, and roll back.

Agreed.  So vote for a candidate who wants to get rid of the masters, break the chains, and set the slaves free!

And if the objection is that Gary Johnson isn't a pure enough libertarian to earn the anarchist vote, you frankly have no one to blame but yourself.  Just as there has been an ideological battle in the Republican Party, there has been a similar struggle in the Libertarian Party.  The forces aligned with Wayne Alan Root fought for a "big-tent" libertarian party, which was code for watering down our beautifully radical platform to become the Republican-lite party.  Those forces succeeded in 2008, but in 2012 I am proud to say that the libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party heroically fought them off and succeeded in defeating their attempt to completely take over the party and disenfranchise the anarchists.  We were able to fill the Libertarian Party Executive Committee completely with radicals, and that setback is a big reason we were finally able to run off Wayne Alan Root himself, as he has formally left the LP, endorsed Romney, and announced his intention to run for office as a Republican.

So can we answer the hardest objection of them all?  Do I have an answer for Mr. Rose's libertarian contradiction?  Having run for office on the LP ticket myself, I was taken aback by his challenge. Did my campaign do more harm than good?  Ask the question another way, is it possible to be a libertarian candidate and not bring legitimacy to the state?

I think it is possible, and while I can't speak for the minarchist candidates of the LP, you can definitely imagine an anarchist campaign that would not violate Mr. Rose's objections.  Imagine a campaign where every voter questionnaire, every interview, and every chance to speak centered around an educational message denouncing the system of government itself and encouraging people to free themselves from their masters.  If every campaign message was about not only dismantling the state, but encouraging people to actively resist the state to help bring that about, then Mr. Rose's objections wouldn't hold water.

And now I am left in an awkward position.  If a principled anarchist could only vote for a principled anarchist candidate, then am I not admitting that some should not vote for the LP because Gary Johnson's campaign does not meet the criteria that I just laid out?

Thankfully, I have at least one prominent libertarian hero on my side, Dr. Walter Block, who has provided me with the perfect reductio ad absurdum rebuttal.  Yes, Gary Johnson's campaign does not meet the qualifications necessary to earn the vote of a principled anarchist...  Luckily, I am not a principled anarchist.

I accept federal reserve notes for payment, which legitimizes the government's theft and fraud through a fractional reserve fiat money system enforced through violence.  I use government roads and other public services, even though I know they were paid for with blood money stolen at the point of a gun.  I have abandoned my unalienable and natural right to self-defense, and instead I have sheepishly applied for a concealed carry permit.  And long before I traded that right for a privilege, I acknowledged that I have no right to travel without the state's permission, as I possess a driver's license.

My list of transgressions against my anarchist principles could go on forever.  The point being, don't throw stones if you live in a glass house.  One of the most hardcore libertarians I know, Michael Badnarik, really walks the walk.  He drives without a driver's license and he will never get a permit to exercise his natural right to bear arms.  The guy is hard-core principled.  And considering that he was the LP's 2004 presidential candidate, I think we can deduce where he falls on the voting issue.  If he can make the sacrifice, what is your excuse?

Conclusion

The Libertarian Party is not perfect.  Our pathetic choice for our presidential candidate in 2008 is testament to that.  However, our party platform is still something a radical libertarian can be proud of, and our recent reversal of the Wayne Alan Root forces is also a great victory for every hardcore libertarian.

Every time I hear "this is the election cycle that can change everything" I shake my head.  It is counter-productive to have delusions of grandeur and set yourself up for failure.  But that being said... this is the year that can change everything.  Not to win, but to finally pass that dreaded 1% mark.  We are not only in a position to break 1%, but we have a real chance of passing the 5% mark.  This means that all of the time, money, and energy that is spent every election in every state to qualify or re-qualify the Libertarian Party for ballot access will no longer be necessary.

With 5%, we get automatic ballot access.  All of the lawsuits, all of the petition gathering, the tens of thousands of dollars… all of it can finally go towards promoting our candidates and more importantly, promoting our message.

One of Gary Johnson's campaign slogans is "Be libertarian with me for one election".  My slogan is "libertarians, vote libertarian with me for one election!"

12/29/2011

America by Any Other Name Would be as Free

Introduction

Americans are patriotic people.  Go to a ball game and watch in amazement as a strong, barrel-chested man transforms before your eyes and sheds a tear at the singing of his national anthem.  In a moment his joy turns to rage as he trounces some ungrateful punk that didn't remove his hat.  What exactly does he get so worked up about?  What is it about a flag or a song that can produce such zeal and emotional attachment?  The polls indicate that we think our government servants are nothing but crooks and liars, willing to slit their grandmother's throat for re-election.  So if it's not our government, what is there to love about America?

If Soviets parachuted in and took over the reigns of power à la Red Dawn this country would still have amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties from sea to shining sea.  So what would change about America if the Red, White, and Blue was lowered and the Hammer, Sickle, and Star was raised in its place?  If Mt. Rushmore was demolished and the likeness of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin was sculpted over the rubble would this country stop being the greatest, freest, and we're-number-one-est country in the world?

Blasphemy!  Of course a communist invasion would mean the end of America!  The reds would take away all of the freedoms that make this country a great social democracy and the envy of the world.  Communism would destroy this country just like the USSR collapsed in 1991.

If only a communist invasion would be this obvious
So if the Soviets are a bad example, what about China?  They claim to be a communist country, but they seem to be doing pretty well.  It seems odd to bad-mouth a country when they are buying your debt and loaning the money you need to keep food on the table and the lights running.  So maybe the Soviet Union was just an example of a poorly managed communist country, and the Chinese have figured out how to do it right.  So re-imagine the picture, how would things change if the Chinese took over America as debt collectors during foreclosure and the Lincoln memorial was retrofitted with Chairman Mao Zedong overlooking the reflecting pool?

In other words, what does it mean to live in a communist country versus a western democracy?  And how would either of those forms of government compare to a fascist America?  Would everyone be goose-stepping and donning swastikas, but otherwise we would have business as normal?

Unfortunately, a successful communist or fascist takeover of America would not be so obvious.  We have to look beyond the superficial characteristics of Charlie Chaplin mustaches and Hammer and Sickle flags to get to the root of the ideology that inspires Communism and Fascism.

What could be more important than clearly identifying what made America great, and distinguishing it from what makes fascist and communist countries evil?  If you judge a tree by the fruit it bears, there is no questioning these moral judgments.  Something about America resulted in a unique historical event known as the industrial revolution where an explosion of innovation, technology, and wealth rose the standard of living of the common man to unimaginable heights and created the first middle class.  Compare that to the fruits of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia or Maoist China and you find starvation, mass-murder, and concentration camps.

Since many countries enjoy just as much if not more natural resources than the United States, we can't attribute external factors like that to why one country becomes 1st world and another languishes in the 3rd world.  It must be the ideology, the principles upon which a government is architected that determine such things.  So let's compare and contrast these conflicting ideas of government and find out if America has remained true to her legacy or if we are witnessing a clandestine coup d'état.

Defining our terms: Government and lack thereof

Before I define the different systems of government, it's important to define government itself.  The great historian, economist, and libertarian philosopher Murray Rothbard said, "the State is the organization of robbery writ large." Harry Browne defined government as "an agency of coercion that's accepted as necessary by most people within its area of influence."  My definition is in alignment with these libertarian thinkers as well as President Barrack Obama, who said, "what essentially sets a nation-state apart [is] a monopoly on violence."

Government: an institution with a monopoly on violence within a territorial area.  The violence exercised by government agents generally includes theft, kidnapping, forced labor, and murder.

This definition might sound radical, but even the most ardent statist would have to admit it captures the essential feature of government.  Regardless of the ends of government, the means are always the same, and they require a monopoly on various forms of violence.  The ends could vary from a state run by angels that magically use their power of coercion to force people to be moral, to a night-watchman government that only exercises its power to stop and punish crime but otherwise leaves the people alone in a laissez-faire economy, to a robin-hood government that robs from the rich to give to the poor, or a 21st century example of a totalitarian nightmare government where psychopaths take over the machinery and erect concentration camps to plunder, torture, and murder the citizens trapped there.  Regardless of the extent or the directed aim that the violence is exercised, the fact remains that only a government exercises that violence with impunity.  If a government didn't have a monopoly on violence it would cease to be government and would become a private company offering legal or defense services, indistinguishable from any other voluntary company.

A society that has no institution with a monopoly on violence would be in a state of anarchy.  Anarchy is usually thought of as a Mad-Max nightmare world with no rule of law and criminals running wild.  To distinguish this undesirable scenario from a world where law and order is exercised by voluntary companies offering legal, defense, and insurance services Murray Rothbard coined the term anarcho-capitalism.

Anarcho-Capitalism: "Rule by No One"  No institution holds a monopoly on violence, nor the power to conscript, tax, or imprison.  Instead, sovereign men and women would assume full responsibility of protecting their natural rights and property, and would do so by forming voluntary companies offering legal and defense services.  Crime would be insured against just like any natural disaster, and private arbitration companies would focus on restitution rather than punishment.


Defining our terms: Forms of government

I have much in agreement with the above video, but I will offer my own definitions that slightly differ with those given and point out how rights, privileges, and property are viewed and respected under each system of government.

Monarchy / Dictatorship: "Rule by One"  The king, queen, or dictator is the sovereign and controls a monopoly on violence over his subjects.  The monarch owns all the property and has all of the rights within his kingdom.  The people that live within the kingdom are either subjects that willingly live there and are granted privileges, or are serfs that are owned as property and are tied to the land through feudalism or outright slavery.

Oligarchy: "Rule by the Few"  This is essentially the same as a monarchy, but the monopoly on violence is shared and executed through a ruling class of nobles.  The above video argues that a monarchy is always an oligarchy, as the king or queen usually rely on a set of nobles, and the dictator has his group of commissars, such that the monarch or dictator doesn't truly make decisions independently, but is merely the front-man for the ruling group he represents.  Both a monarchy and an oligarchy could take the form of a theocracy if the one or few that rule do so according to a religious doctrine.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard  - H.L. Mencken
Democracy: "Rule by the People" / "Rule by the Majority"  The Anti-Federalists branch of the founding fathers often called democracy "The Tyranny of the Majority".  There are no unalienable rights or limitations to the political power in a democracy as everything is up for vote.  51% can vote to impose any law, steal any property, or murder any member of the 49%.  In Federalist #10 James Madison said,
"A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. "
Republic: I am hesitant to use the definition "Rule by the Law" to describe a republic, because even a democracy will have laws, but a majority vote can change the law.  So how do you describe a government with laws that a majority vote cannot change to distinguish a republic from a democracy?  A republic means "the public thing", and it was from a footnote in Isabel Paterson's book The God of the Machine where I read this implication:
"A Republic signifies an organization dealing with affairs which concern the public, thus implying that there are also private affairs, a sphere of social and personal life, with which government is not and should not be concerned; it sets a limit to the political power."
Thus, Benjamin Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention proclaiming the new government as a republic and not a democracy.  The constitution was sold to the states with the understanding that the federal government only had the powers expressly delegated to it, with all other powers belonging to the states and the people.  Though even this was not enough to earn ratification, requiring a Bill of Rights specifying some of the natural, unalienable rights of individuals that no constitutional law could violate.  This understanding of the Constitution clearly set boundaries which the government could not cross, making some things off-limit to majority vote, and differentiating it from a democracy.

Therefore, I would propose that a republic as understood above could be simply defined as "Rule by the Individual".  In a republic the individual is sovereign and has natural, unalienable rights.  The sovereign individuals grant privileges to government servants, who have a duty to exercise limited powers authorized by the people, among those powers being a monopoly on violence to punish and seek restitution for crime against persons and property.  The republican government will have a constitution that strictly limits the powers the public servants can carry out, and provides checks and balances to ensure that the people can reign in a public servant that oversteps his authority.  Thus, a republic would strive to achieve the goals advanced in the Declaration of Independence to form a government for the purpose of protecting individual rights and deriving its powers from the consent of the governed.

SocialismThe Socialist Party advocates a society where "working people own and control the means of production and distribution through democratically controlled public agencies" and claims that "socialism and democracy are one and indivisible."  Wikipedia describes socialism as common ownership and cooperative control of the means of production.  Hence, socialism is a form of democracy, "Rule by the People", that makes no attempt at pretending to honor the rights of the individual, but straight-forwardly advocates using government's monopoly on violence to take control over the productive property.

I view socialism not just as a potential manifestation of democracy, but the inevitable path all democracies will take.  Consider the famous quote attributed to Alexander Tytler and Lord Thomas MacCauley,
"A democracy cannot survive as a permanent form of government.  It can last only until its citizens discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury."
Thus, the point that the citizens in a democracy make the inevitable discovery of using the majority vote to loot the productive property from the minority is when the government becomes socialist.  This is shown in both theory and history.  Modern socialist governments do not attempt to actually own and control the "means of production" but instead implement redistribution schemes and welfare states.  They do not attempt to "collectively run" the productive property from lack of trying, but because it is impossible to make economic decisions without market prices, as Ludwig von Mises first pointed out.

Communism: While Wikipedia also defines one of communism's aims as "common ownership of the means of production", I use the 10 planks of the Communist Manifesto to differentiate socialism from communism.  The ten planks describe the means of achieving the goal of communism, "a stateless and classless society" through the abolition of all private property.  Communism, therefore, does not differ from socialism in principle, but only in the extreme with which it is practiced.  While communism does not praise the democratic process, it would share the key characteristics of a democracy, in that there are no individual rights and no limitation to the political power.

Fascism:  Fascism shares the same key characteristics as 5 of the 6 other forms of government defined above, in that the unalienable rights of the individual are not recognized.  However, while the abolition of individual rights may be an unpleasant side-effect necessary for the "higher goals" advanced by socialism or communism, fascism boldly and unapologetically proclaims that individual rights are nothing compared to the glory of the nation-state.  Lew Rockwell gave a trenchant definition of fascism in his essay The Fascist Threat:
"Fascism is the system of government that cartelizes the private sector, centrally plans the economy to subsidize producers, exalts the police State as the source of order, denies fundamental rights and liberties to individuals, and makes the executive State the unlimited master of society."
The term fascism was coined by Benito Mussolini, and he is commonly quoted as saying, "Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power."  While that exact quote is disputed, the sprit of this definition is confirmed in the work "The Doctrine of Fascism":
"The corporate State considers that private enterprise in the sphere of production is the most effective and useful instrument in the interest of the nation.  In view of the fact that private organisation of production is a function of national concern, the organiser of the enterprise is responsible to the State for the direction given to production.

State intervention in economic production arises only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when the political interests of the State are involved. This intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management."
Fascism is popularly characterized as a "far-right" government in opposition to socialism or communism, who occupy the "far-left" side of the left-right political spectrum.  I maintain that the differences between these systems of government are only superficial and the heart of the divide is predicated on the supposed difference between ownership and control.  While the socialist wants the government to outright own the means of production, the fascist claims to recognize that private property is the necessary condition of production, but the "owner" must answer to the direction given by the state.  A proper understanding of rights and privileges dispels this error, as the owner of property has all the rights and decision making power associated with it, and therefore an "owner" of a factory who must comply with every edict and command of the state is no owner at all.  In that case the state is the true owner, and the supposed private owner is merely a manager for the state.

By understanding that a government that owns the means of production is fundamentally identical to one that controls the means of production, and disregarding the racial characteristic of fascism's most notorious example, we see that fascism shares the same principles of socialism, it's supposed antithesis.

Left-Right paradigm or Individualism vs. Collectivism


The above diagram shows the traditional left-right political spectrum, where the rational and safe place to be is right in the middle between modern liberalism and modern conservatism, or as Tom Woods would say, the political continuum from Hillary Clinton to Mitt Romney.  Anything more to the right of the Republican Party puts you in league with Nazi's and fascists, and anything more to the left of the Democrat Party allies you with commies and bomb-throwing anarchists.  Ironically, anyone that holds positions outside of this narrow spectrum of thought, for example, a principled natural-rights based libertarian, finds himself accused of being "far-left" when the Red Team is in charge under Bush, but then becomes a member of the "far-right" when the Blue Team regains control under Obama.

Theses terms originate from pre-revolutionary France, where the revolutionaries that wanted to limit the existing government, in those days called liberals, sat to the left of the king in the National Assembly, and the nobility who wished to conserve the status quo sat to the right of the king.  From this trivial designation of where 18th century Frenchmen sat in comparison to their king comes this unhelpful, misleading left-right political spectrum.  Hence, we hear that fascists are the opposite of communists because they are on opposite sides of this political spectrum.  Other confusions that arise from this diagram include the idea that a Democrat controlled government could never implement fascist policies, and a Republican government could never implement socialist or communist policies, as again, they are on the wrong side of the spectrum.

Thankfully, the left-right spectrum is not the only diagram we have to make sense of the different forms of government and how they compare and contrast to each other.  The late David Nolan, one of the founders of the Libertarian Party, created the Nolan Chart to add another dimension to the left-right spectrum.  For this chart, the horizontal or x-axis represents economic freedom, and the vertical or y-axis measures personal freedom.  While there are exceptions to the rule, we generally see the Republican party favors policies more in line with economic freedom such as lower taxes but opposes personal freedoms such as drug legalization and abortion, while the Democrat party generally champions personal freedoms but is in favor of heavy taxation and regulations on business.

Rotating the Nolan Chart 45 degrees and re-plotting the familiar logos from the left-right spectrum yields the following diagram.  Here we find modern liberalism and modern conservatism in their familiar places on the left and right, but without the confusions that arise from forcing other forms of government on that one-dimensional line.  While there are good reasons to question if monarchy would be relatively better than democracy in protecting individual rights (see Democracy: The God that Failed), the other major forms of government fall orderly and logically. We see that both Communism and Fascism are at the bottom of the diamond, as both deny economic and personal liberty, while libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism are at the top for championing natural rights, which include personal and economic liberty.


To paint broad strokes on this diagram, we can characterize the top triangle as forms of individualism, with the bottom half compromising governments based on collectivism.  Individualism is a philosophy that stresses the primacy and moral worth of the individual, and a government based on this philosophy would have as its only purpose the protection of individual rights and property.  A libertarian government that promotes "Maximum Freedom, Minimum Government" or a republic as defined above would resemble a night-watchman that uses its monopoly on violence to tax the citizens to provide police and courts to protect them from all forms of assault, theft, and fraud, but otherwise leaves the people with a free-market economy.  Anarcho-capitalism is the epitome of individualism, as not even defense and legal services can justify taxation under this form of non-government.  The anarcho-capitalist philosophy acknowledge the natural rights of the individual, and leaves it to them to form private and completely voluntary legal and defense companies as they see fit, and would not allow for anyone to be forced into this system against their will, even if "it's for their own good".

Collectivism is a philosophy that stresses the group over the individual, where the total is more than the sum of its parts.  Collectivists can focus on the majority, the community, the society, or the nation as the focus of government power, and its common slogan is "the greatest good for the greatest number."   Once that proposition is accepted, it is up to the government officials to decide just what that means, and exercise their monopoly on violence to achieve their ends accordingly.

In a democracy the majority vote is the mechanism to determine the greater good, and all individual rights are at the mercy of the 51%.  Under socialism or communism the society or community is the greater good, and all individual rights must give way, whether it is the farmer forced into collectivization or the bourgeois factory owner forced into contracts and regulations.  The fascist government is the epitome of collectivism, as the nation is exalted as the highest possible good.  The fascist Nation State is an "ethical reality which exists and lives", and the expanding empire is "an essential manifestation of vitality".

Whatever excuse the collectivist uses, the end result is the denial of individual rights, and while the tactics of the individualist my differ, his primary goal is the protection of individual rights.  I find this dichotomy to be far more honest and effective in differentiating different forms of government then the traditional left-right paradigm.

America: from Freedom to Fascism and everything in between

Now that we have defined government and its various forms, and categorized these government systems as they are either based on the philosophies of individualism or collectivism, we are ready to document America's journey through her various experiments in government.  Along the way we will want to remember the questions introduced at the introduction of this blog: What made America great, What form of government did the "founding fathers" leave us, and What form of government do we have today?

America's foundation in Communism

As I first learned in Thomas DiLorenzo's book How Capitalism Saved America, the first American settlers originally adopted communal ownership of land and property.  If there was ever an opportunity to confirm or refute the communist experiment, this was it.  Following the doctrine "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", all that the colonists produced was to go into a common pool to be used to support the colony.  What was the result?

For the first Americans settling Jamestown in the Virginia Tidewater region in May 1607, DiLorenzo reports,
"they found incredibly fertile soil and a cornucopia of seafood, wild game such as deer and turkey, and fruits of all kinds.  Nevertheless, within six months, all but 38 of the original 104 Jamestown settlers were dead, most having succumbed to famine. … Two years later, the Virginia Company sent 500 more "recruits" to settle in Virginia, and within six months a staggering 440 were dead by starvation and disease."
In 1611 the British government sent Sir Thomas Dale to serve as high marshal of the Virginia colony, where he identified the cause of the problems as the system of communal ownership.  He scrapped the old system and instituted new reforms where each man in the colony was given 3 acres of private property and only had to contribute 1 month per year to the colony treasury.  DiLorenzo writes,
"Private property was thus put into place, and the colony immediately began to prosper.  There was no more free riding, for each individual himself bore the full consequences of any reductions in output.  At the same time, the individual had an incentive to increase his effort because he directly benefited from his own labor."
In 1620 the Mayflower expedition arrived in Cape Cod and made the same tragic mistake, where common property ownership left half of the original colonists dead within a few months.  The chief Mayflower investor, Thomas Weston, arrived to examine "the ruin and dissolution of his colony" and arrived at the same conclusion as Sir Thomas Dale.  After instituting private property he happily reported, "This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious… The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn."

The Theocratic rule of the British colonies

Fast forward 30-40 years, and we find that some of the British colonies instituted a theocratic government just as oppressive as those the colonists originally fled from.  As I learned in Murray Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty Vol I, one of the most oppressive colonies was the Puritan rule in Massachusetts Bay.  The first compulsory education law in America was implemented here in 1642, with the purpose of indoctrinating the younger generation in Puritan orthodoxy.  The school master was supported by the town government, and a 1654 law made it illegal to employ any teachers that "manifested themselves unsound in the faith or scandalous in their lives."

Under Puritan rule any worldly pleasures on the Sabbath were a crime against both church and state.  In the 1650's the general court passed a law prohibiting the crimes of "playing, uncivil walking, and drinking and traveling from town to town" on Sunday.  If one could not pay the fine for this grave offense, the criminal was whipped by the constable at the maximum rate of five lashes per ten-shilling fine.

Other Sunday crimes included kissing one's wife in public, failing to attend a Puritan church, or upon following the compulsory church attendance law, falling asleep in church!  There were also many laws passed against women such as outlawing apparel like short sleeve dresses that exposed the naked arm, or even just clothing that was too nice and indicated the "pride of raiment."

Unfortunately, the oligarchic and theocratic governments of these colonies could be so oppressive that many colonists pleaded to the King to enforce their rights as Englishmen and protect them from Puritan rule.  The memory resulted in many supporting the King and joining the Tories in the upcoming American revolution.

Anarcho-Capitalism kick-starts the revolution

Moving on to Volumes III and IV of Rothbard's treatise Conceived in Liberty, we arrive on September 5, 1774 at the meeting of the first Continental Congress.  The official call for the first Congress was made the previous June by the Massachusetts Assembly, which was one of the revolutionary parallel institutions of quasi-government that answered Sam Adam's call to, "let associations and combinations be everywhere set up to consult and recover our just rights."  The various committees from the colonies wanted to unite in their opposition against the 'Intolerable Acts' through boycotts and other actions against Great Britain.  Foreshadowing America's future intellectual battles between her radicals and conservatives, the first Congress contained two factions; one wanted to address grievances within the confines of the British Constitution and their rights as Englishmen, and another sought a hard-core natural rights approach to deny the authority of Parliament.

The battles at Lexington and Concord fought by volunteer militia who elected their own officers.
While the Continental Congress did make compromises to satisfy the conservative branch, it should be noted how revolutionary the Congress was as a whole.  Here we have citizens acting not through their authorities in Parliament, but spontaneously creating their own organizations of local authority and making demands and issuing orders in defiance of their official government.  At this point, however, the Continental Congress could not be thought of as a government, because everything it did was voluntary and lacked a government's characteristic monopoly on violence.  The call to boycott and its local enforcement was done completely voluntarily, the second provincial congress of Massachusetts refused to levy taxes, but instead recommended a payment to the revolutionary institutions, and when the Committee of Safety made the call to raise an army it did so completely through volunteers and voluntary contributions, with the minutemen having the power of freely electing their own officers.

Rothbard quotes John Adams as witnessing this radical development and seeing " a great Province governed not by police and penalty but by, as it were, two hundred and sixty volunteer consciences."

It was these anarchistic institutions, lacking the coercive powers of taxing or conscripting militia, that nonetheless fought the British at Lexington and Concord and won great victories with volunteer militia that eventually defeated the greatest army in the world.

The Constitution gives a Republic, if you can keep it

After 10 years of operating under the Articles of Confederation the Hamiltonians had enough, the central government was far too weak.  The federal government could only request money from the states, it had no powers to tax the people directly, and that obstacle put a halt to any ambitious designs for an American empire.  Under the guise of amending the Articles of Confederation to enhance its taxing power the delegates instead launched a campaign to scrap the Articles and set up a completely new government.  Hamilton and his cronies openly supported a nationalist government where the president would be like a King, holding term for life along with a permanent senate, appointing governors with the power to override state legislature, and generally having powers suitable for a Monarch.

However, the people did not want a strong national government like the one they had just defeated.  "Nationalism", or a government with a strong executive, was very different from the "federalism" the people enjoyed where an alliance of sovereign, independent states were joined under the Articles of Confederation.  When the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention returned with the proposed constitution, they brought them a document setting up a national government, but they made things optimally confusing by calling themselves federalists, and any that opposed them anti-federalists.

The Constitution: a Trojan horse for big government
The Anti-Federalists wrote against adopting the constitution, warning of the vague language and potential for trouble contained in the general welfare clause, the necessary and proper clause, and the interstate commerce clause.  The federalists responded that their fears were unfounded, the necessary and proper clause only applied to the seventeen explicitly delegated powers listed in Article 1, Section 8.  Unmoved by these explanations, the states demanded an explicit bill of rights documenting some of the individual, natural rights that this new government could never violate, as well as the most important amendments from the Jeffersonian perspective, the ninth and tenth, which proclaimed that there are many other rights not enumerated that are still retained by the people, and that all powers not delegated to the national government and not prohibited from the States belong to the States and the people.

This strict, literal interpretation of the Constitution promoted by the Federalists and understood by the delegates that ratified it did not last long.  After the Constitution was ratified Hamilton conveniently came upon a new understanding of the document.  Though he argued in the Federalist Papers that the only powers belonging to the national government were the seventeen explicitly delegated powers in Article 1, Section 8, as Secretary of Treasury under George Washington he argued that the Constitution in fact gave the national government powers both explicit and implicit, and thus he argued for the constitutionality of a central bank.

Benjamin Franklin's words "A republic… if you can keep it" now contain a cryptic meaning.  If the constitution could not retain its literal interpretation within years of its ratification from Hamilton's dishonest and lawyerly tricks, then the passage of time and the corruption of the English language would surely mean the end of federalism.

Lincoln, "The Great Dictator"

One of the most iconoclastic and paradigm-changing books I've read is Thomas DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln.  The radical information in this book can be split between deconstructing two great myths, the means and the ends for which Lincoln waged the Civil War.  DiLorenzo sums up the means employed by Lincoln here:
"Even though the majority of Americans, North and South, believed in a right of secession as of 1861, upon taking office Lincoln implemented a series of unconstitutional acts, including launching an invasion of the South without consulting Congress, as required by the Constitution; declaring martial law; blockading the Southern ports; suspending the writ of habeas corpus for the duration of his administration; imprisoning without trial thousands of Northern citizens; arresting and imprisoning newspaper publishers who were critical of him; censoring all telegraph communication; nationalizing the railroads; creating several new states without the consent of the citizens of those states; ordering Federal troops to interfere with elections in the North by intimidating Democratic voters; deporting a member of Congress, Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, for criticizing the administration's income tax proposal at a Democratic Party rally; confiscating private property, confiscating firearms in violation of the Second Amendment; and effectively gutting the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, among other things."
These charges are indisputable, and mainstream historians will argue that the ends of abolishing slavery justified the extraordinary measures taken by Lincoln, thus calling him "The Great Dictator".  The problem with this view is addressed in the other categorical half of DiLorenzo's book, which shows that the civil war was not waged over the issue of slavery, but was instead fought over economic questions like tariffs on manufactured goods that benefited the North at the expense of the South.  Some of the most convincing evidence presented were the many quotes by Lincoln where he endorsed such racist ideas as sending the slaves back to Africa and making the new western-most states for whites only, quotes of him saying that he would free all the slaves or free none of the slaves as long as the union was preserved, and the historical fact that the emancipation proclamation specifically applied only to those states which were "in rebellion", exempting union controlled slave holding states such as Maryland, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Thus it was Lincoln who forever changed our country's grammatical identity.  Before the War of Southern Independence, one would say "the United States are…" to describe the group of sovereign, independent States that make up "The United States of America."  After the War of Northern Aggression we say "the United States is…" to describe the Union, that thing which is greater than the sum of its parts, this strange form of contract with which one can join but can never leave.

Every time another unconstitutional law is passed or a civil liberty is violated, our representatives hold out Lincoln as the "ends justify the means" example of the one who was willing to do the "hard things" when the country needed it.  But we now see this comparison as false on two fronts.  It was unconstitutional for the Congress of 1798 to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts, as it was for Lincoln to arrest northern citizens and newspaper publishers, as it was to imprison Japanese-Americans during World War II, as is the detention without trial of suspects at Guantanamo Bay.  These acts were always unconstitutional, but it was Lincoln that "proved" he was right by launching a war that killed half a million Americans, paving the way for future transgressions against the American people.  If a military dictatorship ever firmly establishes itself here, Lincoln will be its charter member and guiding spirit.

Fighting the Great War to make the world "Safe for Democracy"

Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 because "he kept us out of war", and he turned his campaign platform on its head in 1917 when he proclaimed American entrance into World War I to make the world "safe for democracy."  In the introduction to his book Democracy: The God that Failed, Hans-Herman Hoppe draws a distinct line between previous wars that were primarily territorial disputes fought by professional armies for limited goals and this new form of grand ideological war with the supposed goal of making the world safe for democracy.  Hoppe states:
"When in March 1917 the US-allied Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate and a new democratic-republican government was established in Russia under Kerensky, Wilson was elated.  With the Czar gone, the war had finally become a purely ideological conflict: of good against evil.
...
As an increasingly ideologically motivated conflict, the war quickly degenerated into a total war …. The time-honored distinction between combatants and noncombatants and military and civilian life fell by the wayside.  For this reason, World War I resulted in many more civilian casualties - victims of starvation and disease - than of soldiers killed on the battlefields.  Moreover, due to the ideological character of the war, at its end no compromise peace but only total surrender, humiliation, and punishment was possible."
This marks the last time that America gave any pretension to maintaining a Republic.  From then on the American psyche was married to the idea of protecting democracies, both abroad and at home.  Tyranny of the majority?  Mob-rule?  Two wolves and a sheep arguing on what's for dinner?  The American people will have none of it.  From this point on we'll wage any war, bomb any civilian city, and invade any country to protect or impose our supposed democracy.

Meanwhile Wilson introduces Communism at home

Many odious laws were passed during Wilson's terms that fundamentally altered the architecture of our government and even shaped the American culture.  The seventeenth amendment annihilated states rights by making the Senate no longer ambassadors of the states who could be recalled by their state legislatures for bad behavior, but now another directly elected legislature, different from the Congress only in their number and term length.  However, the biggest changes he oversaw did not even come with an amendment to the Constitution.  In 1914 he maneuvered three major pieces of legislation through Congress.  Complementing the sixteenth amendment allegedly ratified the previous year, the first piece of legislation was a lower tariff, the Underwood Act, which had a graduated Federal income tax attached to it.  He also saw the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, undoing the hard work of bank-fighting president's Jefferson and Jackson.  Finally, he put through antitrust legislation to establish the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit "unfair business practices" through its authority in the constitution's interstate commerce clause.

If one understands communism through the lens of the ten planks of the communist manifesto, it appears that Wilson was hell bent on re-establishing the form of government that the first American pilgrims rightly abandoned 200 years earlier.  With the first plank describing the goal of communism, the abolition of private property, planks two through ten describe the methods and requisites of how to get there.

The second plank is a heavy progressive or graduated income tax, which had been unsuccessfully passed as law in previous administrations and ruled as unconstitutional.  The third plank is the abolition of all rights of inheritance, which corresponded to the Federal & State estate tax passed in 1916.  The fifth plank is the centralization of credit in the hands of the state by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly, achieved by the Federal Reserve.  1916 also saw the establishment of the department of labor, the federal highway act, and laws outlawing child labor, corresponding to the sixth, eighth, and tenth planks.

Of all these changes, the impact caused by the federal income tax cannot be overstated.  It snuck through under the guise of a measly 1% that applied only to the richest of the rich.  Now it generally takes a third of all the fruits of ones labor, offering a reverse incentive that the harder one works and the more one gains, the more the state will take as its share.  The magnitude of this change through the loss of capital that was never accumulated and the loss of jobs that were never created because the profits would have been stolen by the government cannot be measured.

Will we ever see the Hammer, Sickle and Star fly over the White House?  What does it matter beyond a ceremonial acknowledgement if the ideas that flag represents have infested and grown throughout the nation's infrastructure for the last 100 years?

FDR offers a New Deal in Fascism

Wolfgang Schivelbusch wrote a book called Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933-1939.  In this work he looks at the similarities between these three regimes, from their initial mutual praise for each other, to the shared elements in their "new deals" in their architecture style, enforcement methods, and public works projects.

Not only did the Nazi's praise "Roosevelt's adoption of National Socialist strains of thought in his economic and social policies", but FDR returned the compliment in a letter to ambassador William Dodd, saying that, "the virtue of duty, readiness for sacrifice, and discipline should dominate the entire people.  These moral demands which the President places before every individual citizen of the United States are also the quintessence of the German state philosophy, which finds its expression in the slogan "The Public Weal Transcends the Interest of the Individual.""

There was also mutual praise between FDR's New Deal and Mussolini's Fascist Italy.  Mussolini wrote an approving review of Roosevelt's Looking Forward, saying that Roosevelt's calls to battle are "reminiscent of the ways and means by which Fascism awakened the Italian people", further, "reminiscent of Fascism is the principle that the state no longer leaves the economy to its own devices, having recognized that the welfare of the economy is identical with the welfare of the people."  Mussolini also reviewed FDR's secretary of Agriculture's book New Frontiers, saying "Where is America headed?  This book leaves no doubt that it is on the road to corporatism, the economic system of the current century."

The mutual kudos between these regimes highlight the reality that all three embodied the definition of fascism as defined above.  Roosevelt's National Industrial Recovery Act is the most obvious, as it required American businessmen to form cartels that would set prices for its members.  While they were supposed to be voluntary, the "Blue Eagle" campaign and its government instigated boycotts ensured compliance.  From the NRA to Social Security, the theme of the new deal was to take control away from the "free-market, i.e., anarchistic economy" to the centrally controlled, cartelized, "corporativistic" economy, and this radical shift established our current system of the modern welfare state and the regulated economy.

Schivelbusch stresses that he does not think these comparisons warrant calling FDR's programs fascist, as they never resulted in the loss of civil liberties and the atrocities associated with other fascist regimes.  But he confuses the action with the reaction.  Just as inflation has been re-defined as rising prices instead of the classical definition of an increase in the money supply, with rising prices being the inevitable consequence, Schivelbusch doesn't see fascism until you find concentration camps.  Instead, he should recognize fascism as the political-economic system described above, and the loss of civil liberties, wars, and civilian deaths as the inevitable consequence that goes to the extent of the implementation of fascist policies.  The reason wars and concentration camps tend to arrive after fascist economic policies is the same reason that there can be no advanced socialist economy: without market prices no rational economic decisions can be made.  The market price of a good is the voluntarily arrived place where the forces of supply and demand meet, and any attempt to set the price above or below that market price with the use of force will result in surpluses or shortages.  The fascist government, implementing economic controls and causing surpluses of goods the people do not want and shortages of their most basic necessities, must create a scapegoat to prevent the citizens from recognizing the cause of their problems and reacting accordingly.  Thus, the fascist government will initiate wars with foreign countries, or declare war on a convenient minority of it's own citizens to blame them for the economic conditions that their fascist policies caused.

The incremental march to scientific dictatorship

In the height of the 2008 economic depression, a woman is arrested in a sting operation for operating a taxi without a license.  In 2011 federal SWAT teams nationwide crack down on criminals and terrorist sympathizers engage in the activity of… selling and consuming raw milk.  Meanwhile, the war on neighborhood lemonade stands continues heroically onward.

When we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which  we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.  -Thomas Paine
How did we get here?  The red team under Bush passes laws like the Patriot Act and the blue team yells Fascist!  The big-government baton changes hands as Obama takes charge of the blue team and implements sweeping changes that make the Tea Partiers cry Socialist!  They're both right.  One team pushes on your economic liberties and calls you a racist if you resist, the other team pushes back on your personal liberties and threatens you with boogeymen and hobgoblins under your bed.

As long as the American worldview only goes back 4 to 8 years, we'll never diagnose the source of our problems.  Just as the disease must be correctly diagnosed before the correct medicine can be prescribed, we must recognize the source of our national prosperity as the mechanisms of our government aligned with the principle of individualism, and root out the disease of collectivism whether it's manifestations come from the latest administration, from a presidency a century ago, or from defects or dishonest interpretations of the constitution itself.

Conclusion

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is a quote from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, meaning that the names of things do not matter, only what they are.  In this spirit I ask, what is America?  If it is more than geographic boundaries, more than sentimental attachment to a song or a symbol, then what is it?  America is what it is because of its legacy of a revolution based on natural rights and a individualist philosophy.  Whether the constitution was an honest mistake or a hologram of liberty, it still contains components of the individualist revolution found through a strict interpretation of that document with an emphasis on the ninth and tenth amendments.  If we accept a government that completely disregards the constitution, the last ties we have to individualism, and endorse a collectivist government with flavors of socialism, communism, and fascism, then do we still live in America?
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