I'd previously heard of Karen Kwiatkowski mainly in her role as a Pentagon insider exposing lies about Iraq. Until reading this essay, I made the mistake of assuming that those enthusiastically touting her as a potential Libertarian presidential or vice-presidential candidate simply wanted a standard-bearer (a) for whom ending U.S. government intervention in Iraq would be a major focus, and (b) possessed of a pedigree impressive to conservatives and nationalists who place a high value on wearing a uniform while working for the State. However this transcript of a talk she gave on Sunday at the Future of Freedom Foundation conference shows that she is far from a one-trick pony branded with establishment credentials, but rather a well-schooled libertarian thinker of breadth, depth, and audacity.
There are a couple discordant notes here. Kwiatkowski's brief characterization of the Civil War, in which she appears to come a bit too close to defending the Confederacy, is one, although it's possible that her remark would come across far differently if she'd had the space to provide more context. Her approvingly quoting career warrior Colonel David Hackworth on the military being run by "perfumed princes," and the late medieval French philosopher Etienne de La Boétie on the typical tyrant as being "cowardly and effeminate," is another. But it would be too quick to judge her as intolerant toward persons of other races or sexual orientations on the basis of such scant evidence. Certainly her ability to holistically examine one of the critical issues of our times is worthy of admiration, and I look forward to reading more of her writing.
Love & Liberty,
((( starchild )))
by Karen Kwiatkowski
This talk was delivered at the Future of Freedom Foundation’s conference on "Restoring the Republic: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties," on June 8, 2008, in Reston, Virginia.
We – and not just those of us attending this wonderful conference – understand that the American imperial experiment is ending. The results were not as the experimenters envisioned. Yet the results have been very much as the anti-federalists foresaw, as the so-called Old Right witnessed against, and as many in this room, and by extension, their extensive networks of free market ideology and small-L libertarianism implicitly understand.
The American Empire is over. Our fiat money is increasingly valueless and garners a generalized disgust around the world. Our economic engine was once driven by a purer form of capitalism and by people who could think and compete, and aspired to do so. Today, we find an American version of national socialism, where the subsidized and intensely regulated planes and trains don’t really run on time, but we are sublimely grateful for the government’s assistance and leadership just the same.
We find today in America a massive government bureaucracy, at multiple levels, each layer lapping and snarling hungrily for its sustenance, and its justification. We may think of regulators, inspectors, tax collectors, police forces, and city managers. Curiously, in many rural counties across this country the largest employer is in fact the school system, binding a plurality of workers and parents to a national education system that strives to leave no child unscarred by standardization. Whether this goal is accomplished by prescription medication, the slow torture of boredom, the ritualized sacrifice at the altar of the multiple choice state exam, or simply by the grinding, relentless institutional punishment of youthful curiosity and individuality, the goal is indeed accomplished.
Our military is nationalized and permanently standing, as well-funded as it is poorly led. The late Colonel David Hackworth, a veteran of several 20th century American wars overseas, referred to "perfumed princes" in an article he wrote in 1987 – several years before the Cold War ended.
Echoing both Lt General Smedley Butler circa 1933 and President Eisenhower, who warned of the unseemly power of our military-industrial complex in early 1961, Hackworth defined these men as "corporate generals and admirals [who should be sent] packing to industry where their brilliance would be well used…" The "perfumed princes" that Hackworth believed should be sent packing to industry were indeed going to industry, and instead of seeking the nation’s peace and security, these perfumed princes were then, as they are today, completely vested in war and insecurity.
Several months ago, Congressman Ron Paul asked a top general, a man who is today the Central Command Combatant Commander, a question related to the United States Constitution. Dr. Paul asked, "Does the administration have the authority to bomb Iran without further congressional approval?" I assume that General Petraeus is familiar with Article I, Section Eight of the constitution, granting the power to declare war to the Congress, and expressly not granting that power to any single man or woman who may be angry, frustrated, ill-informed or trying to gain the approval of his or her play group.
I think it is fair to say that this general, in his now famous response – "That’s not my purview" – demurred, sidestepped, and lied, in the manner of all perfumed princes. More recently, the mainstream media was shocked, shocked to learn that a long list of well-known so-called military experts were receiving and devotedly parroting page after page, year after year, Pentagon and White House-drafted talking points. I hate to disagree with Colonel Hackworth, but I do believe he overstated the brilliance of the generals and admirals. They are as undistinguished and ordinary in the corporate world as Hackworth understood them to be in the world of war.
Thus, the empire is bankrupt, bereft of talent and capacity. It spends 2 and a half billion dollars a day on its "security apparatus," over a trillion dollars a year. Its green eyeshaders, like apocalyptic horsemen, gallop faster and faster as the currency debases, spending monstrous sums on military maintenance and training, the conduct of current wars, and funding that overfed toddler we call the intelligence community in order to ensure future wars. Our military, the one we say fights for freedom and peace around the world, is a grand Gulliver, bound and disabled and continually amazed by what it encounters on the Island of Lilliput.
The American empire is unsustainable at home, by American workers and homemakers, and as Herb Stein famously observed, "Things that can’t go on forever, don’t." But it isn’t just that national, ideological, and corporate imperialism cannot create value or produce widgets over the long term. It isn’t just that government largesse necessarily stifles real capital formation, or that the Leviathan necessarily murders freedom. Less obviously, but I think perhaps more importantly, is how the dichotomy between America’s sense of self and her actual self since the later19th century has already defeated our "city on the hill"-derived globalism.
The USA Today newspaper reported last December that, "The Lakota Sioux Indians, whose ancestors include Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Crazy Horse, have withdrawn from all treaties their forefathers signed with the U.S. government and have declared their independence. A delegation delivered the news to the State Department…." The report goes on to note that the United States government is in violation of 33 treaties with the Lakota Sioux.
Along these same lines, CNN reported recently that a group of Hawaiians took over the old Hawaiian monarchy’s royal residence and vowed to conduct the kingdom’s government. CNN noted, "The group is one of several in Hawaii that reject statehood and seek to return to the constitutional monarchy that effectively ended in 1893 when a group of politicians, businessmen and sugar planters – aided by the U.S. minister to Hawaii – overthrew the kingdom’s government."
Last month, National Public Radio did a short series on the Indian boarding school system, its origins and history. This history was pertinent because from NPR’s perspective, the modern and evolved federal boarding schools were in terrible danger of losing their funding. But in this report, as with the news of the declared independence of the Lakota Nation, we see and hear of occupation, misuse of military force against the weak, theft of land and resources, re-education of the individual by and for the central state, and the ever-ratcheting and expansive nature of government lies.
These mainstream media stories remind us of past and present federal efforts to contain and control native American peoples. We could have been talking about what our federal government is doing in Iraq, or Afghanistan, because the methods and the motivations are much the same.
I’m all for truth, justice and the revolutionary American way. It seems like we spend a lot of time discussing whether or not we should be proud of "America" or whether supporting the troops abroad and at home means supporting the idiotic and unconstitutional government that placed them there. We witness and sometimes participate in artificial morality plays, when we try to determine if the government murder of some people is OK, and whether government torture under some circumstances is ethical.
George W. Bush, speaking for the government, has repeatedly said, "We do not torture." Could it be that he assumes the imperial "We?" If so, he may be correct. Individual people torture, and individual people kill and maim other people, destroy their homes and futures, shoot their livestock, topple their buildings. Perhaps the inanity of our troubled little Caesar is actually part of a larger plan to destroy the imperial mindset, and restore the Republic.
It goes without saying that the rest of the world is wise to our existing empire, its financial and military incorporation, and its trite and transparent ideological propaganda. Our government likes to demonize those who have the temerity to speak honestly and publicly about our empire. We say Chavez is the new Castro, Putin the new Stalin, Ahmadinejad the new Hitler. Some Americans and most non-Americans know enough about the European, Soviet and Cold War history to realize that the Castro, Stalin or Hitler flavor of the month is government propaganda directed specifically at a poorly educated American audience, and at no one else.
America’s governmental mythology – Murray Rothbard referred to it as the "carefully nurtured mystique of government" – is being rejected around the world, and by Americans themselves. This rejection is a beautiful thing, and it occurs daily, even minute-by-minute, at LewRockwell.com, the Future of Freedom Foundation, antiwar.com and a whole host of free market institutions, political movements and organizations. It is especially wonderful to see the idea of global empire pummeled and gutted, usually unintentionally, in the pages of USA Today and the New York Times, to watch it on CNN and to listen via National Public Radio. When the very purveyors and beneficiaries of American empire and presumed hegemony inadvertently educate average Americans on the costs of empire, and the truth of our imperial history, it is a very good thing, and it signals the end of empire.
Americans hear about nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they ask for it back home, in storm- and flood- and fire-ravaged cities in the south and west and in the heartland. Americans hear about roads and bridges being constructed and repaired abroad, and they’d like to see our tax dollars at home working on those exact same projects. Americans hear about the so-called security services our troops provide overseas, and they’d like to see that security applied at our ports and on our borders, even in our troubled urban areas. When Americans are told that they must wait for this kind of nation-building and security at home because our economy is in a tailspin, our government is broke, and the two primary political parties have matching unconstitutional war agendas, they begin to understand the nature of centralized unaccountable lawless imperial-minded government. And they inherently despise it.
This is how crazy it is. A recent set of articles by Frida Berrigan of the New America Foundation summarizes seven key missions assumed by the Pentagon under the current administration. These range from being America’s intelligence agency, her domestic disaster manager, and by far the largest recipient of non-entitlement federal spending. They also include the roles of America’s global diplomat, global arms dealer, global humanitarian responder, and global viceroy of space and the heavens. It sounds surreal, unbelievable. It is a comedic parody of centralization of power, hubris, and incompetence.
Augustine wrote The City of God in the early 400s, at the time of the late and undeniable collapse of the Roman Empire, which had been considered a Christian Empire for nearly 200 years. Augustine wrote something that defines empire and clearly labels the hypocrisy that is its undoing. Many of you have probably heard or read this before, but it is worth repeating here:
Without justice, what are kingdoms but great robber bands? What are robber bands but small kingdoms? The band is itself made up of men, is ruled by the command of a leader, and is held together by a social pact. Plunder is divided in accordance with an agreed upon law. If this evil increases by the inclusion of dissolute men to the extent that it takes over territory, establishes headquarters, occupies cities, and subdues peoples, it publicly assumes the title of kingdom!
A fitting and true response was once given to Alexander the Great by an apprehended pirate. When asked by the king what he thought he was doing by infesting the sea, he replied with noble insolence, "What do you think you are doing by infesting the whole world? Because I do it with one puny boat, I am called a pirate; because you do it with a great fleet, you are called an emperor."
The American empire is collapsing – and as with the natural collapse of other empires, people in and out of the empire’s grasp simply stop believing some decades and generations before the physical end. This is where we are today – and unlike all previous empires in collapse, we live in an age of rapid communication, and instant access to history, research, commentary and imagery available for the asking. Tradition and habit can keep an empire on life support for centuries, at least it worked this way centuries before now. Today, change can come as quickly as ideas can travel, guide and inform individual choices and actions.
We could identify many more signs of our collapsing empire, from professional expeditionary mercenary forces posing as defense, to the absolute lack of real debate on the future by our fundamentally one-party governing establishment. There is a modern cliché that fits: it is what it is. Those Americans deeply invested in empire will face painful change. But at the same time, opportunities for freedom, for restrained republican government, for prosperity and purpose exist, and they are available now for the rest of us. And remember, we are the majority.
We can conceive of these opportunities on several levels, and in the next few minutes, I’d like to explore some specifics. Last year at this venue, I spoke of restoring the Republic. Some listeners were surprised when I veered around and past the idea of a single massive republic for this country, and suggested that a confederation of independent republics and states might work. This would reverse the Lincoln legacy, a sacrilege in Washington, but not a bad idea for the rest of the country. When we speak of empire, we speak of the taking and controlling of subordinate regions and people, motivated by the economic interests of the politically connected, and justified by a public ideology of patriotic and moral goodness.
Certainly the Civil War could be described as a militarized policy to restrict the southern capitalism that was squeezing Northern industrial and banking interests, energized by a widespread moral rationale that was leveraged by political leaders. Subsequent imperial expansion and interventions, from the Indian wars, the Hawaiian annexation, the Spanish-American War, U.S. involvement in the first and second world wars, and the 70-plus military interventions since then – including the ones we see in Afghanistan and Iraq – have all met this same criteria.
When we speak of opportunities for restoring the republic, we need to imagine a time in American government that we have not seen in 200 years. It is that republican ideal we should seek to restore. Really small government. Weak and poorly nourished government. Government that approaches us rarely, and when it does, behaves like a friendly yet uncertain puppy. In my lifetime, the Libertarian Party has typically articulated this kind of vision. But what is typically not articulated is the kind of person who creates this kind of small, benign government, and thrives under it, the kind of person who resists feeding and entertaining the cute little puppy.
Baby animals evolved to be cute, rounded, fuzzy and submissive – because cute, rounded, fuzzy and submissive baby animals tend to get more positive attention from parents and others, and thus survive to make more creatures who regardless of how obscenely frightening, monstrous, and aggressive they are destined to be when they grow up, are friendly and appealing in their infantile state. So it is with government – and this is an aspect of the leviathan problem that defeats the wisest constitution.
Government also grows and centralizes, empires expand until they collapse because we the people want to be good, rich, and admired – but all on the cheap. Luckily for us today in America, we are getting an object lesson on how being "good" on the cheap, through the ambition of ideologues and fools, and the sacrifice of other fools and conscripts far from home, is immoral, and costs way more than advertised for far less benefit. Instead of being admired and venerated, we are feared and hated by the rest of the world. Instead of gaining wealth and freedom, we see our own lives and livelihoods made debt-bound and fruitless.
We wonder why – and often we don’t understand our own culpability in the misery of tyranny. Etienne de La Boétie, a French lawyer and philosopher in the middle 1500’s, shared his thoughts on this problem in "The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude." De La Boétie wondered, "What strange phenomenon is this? What name shall we give it? What is the nature of this misfortune? What vice is it, or, rather, what degradation? To see an endless multitude of people not merely obeying, but driven to servility? Not ruled, but tyrannized over?"
He describes the typical tyrant, and we recognize the type,
[The people] suffer plundering, wantonness, cruelty, not from an army, not from a barbarian horde, on account of whom they must shed their blood and sacrifice their lives, but from a single man; not from a Hercules nor from a Samson, but from a single little man. Too frequently this same little man is the most cowardly and effeminate in the nation, a stranger to the powder of battle and hesitant on the sands of the tournament; …
To end the tyranny and the empire, to reverse the concentration of power, to stop the ambitious Leviathan, de La Boétie– at the age of 18 years – advised simply:
[T]here is no need of fighting to overcome this single tyrant, for he is automatically defeated if the country refuses consent to its own enslavement: it is not necessary to deprive him of anything, but simply to give him nothing; there is no need that the country make an effort to do anything for itself provided it does nothing against itself. It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude. A people enslaves itself, cuts its own throat, when, having a choice between being vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, …
We are speaking today of the collapse of the American empire, and it is collapsing precisely because so many are already doing what La Boétie advises – giving the tyrant nothing, ceasing to submit to his authority, living as free men!
Simply knowing that this is what is happening by us, around us, and throughout the country – and so too, the rest of the world, is powerful. We need to recognize this fact – this reality in this moment. The Ron Paul banner – revolution, with emphasis on the letters L – O – V – E, is in perfect concert with the way things really do change.
The way we think about the collapse of empire is key to actually restoring a republic, and in recognizing the opportunities inherent in the collapse. If we see the American Empire, and its well-funded military machine grasping around the world, deep into the heartland, and into space, as some massive physical entity – the collapse will indeed be a catastrophic event. Catastrophes, like the black plague in Europe, always bring new opportunities, often painfully forced through death, poverty, starvation and crisis. But our American empire, this economic and militaristic dominatrix, is less a physical entity than an idea we voluntarily embrace, and even those of us who dedicate ourselves to targeting the empire can, by our very obsession, overstate our empire’s inherent abilities and power.
The empire we speak of, and bemoan, and indeed from which we suffer economically and morally – is little more than a veneer. The emperor has no clothes; we know the fable well. It is also true that the American empire itself is hollow, a movie set with authentic looking building fronts, but with nothing behind them. The currency of our empire, whether fiat money or military effectiveness, is likewise not believable, and therefore not valued. The American empire rests entirely on our belief in it – take away that faith, and we shed the empire. The collapse of empire is really the act – by each one of us – of rising up from our knees, and brushing off the dust.
Thus – what are our opportunities, as we rise up in freedom? How do we help our families, neighbors, friends, and those in our network to rise up in freedom? I’d like to discuss three simple things that we can do to leverage, to speed, and perhaps, to ease the process of returning to republicanism. The first is cultivating a certain quality of mind.
If we wish to be self-governed politically, we must first be self-governed individually. To be self-governed is to live our lives as we wish, in complete concert with our deeply held values, boldly, every day. To live this way, we must be educated, logical and morally brave – all qualities of mind.
We must move ourselves, our children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors, continually in this direction. Mark Twain once said, "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." We know that these qualities of mind are never the result of public schooling and public employment, but it is important to remember they are certainly not precluded by it.
Education is not just about knowing facts or gathering up information. Cullen Murphy, former Atlantic Monthly editor and writer, studied similarities between Rome and the United States in his most recent book. He speaks of a "fatal parochialism" of Roman citizens, "...a lack of interest in the outside world, even among the elites." As a result, the Romans – government, military and people – were "often taken by surprise."
Think about that. Many of us who are libertarian, or anarcho-capitalist, or part of the anti-interventionist right or left – we got there by thinking and reading, listening and observing – and I don’t think a single one of us hasn’t stumbled upon some surprising bit of perfect wisdom from older and other cultures. We may have started with the Bible, but beyond that we discovered that governing dilemmas, issues of human liberty and human slavery, human choices have been debated and examined by the brightest men and women for centuries. We cherish the founders, especially the anti-federalists for their fierce devotion to liberty, and their passionate distrust of centralized political power. Yet they too based their understanding on those who went before – they were educated beyond the parochial – beyond narrow confines of a single country, a single era, a single religion, a single narrow philosophy, a single career specialty.
The recent tell-all book by Scott McClellan depicts George W. Bush as intellectually uncurious and prone to self-deception. When the book came out a few weeks ago, the White House inadvertently confirmed its former spokesman by saying it was "surprised" and "puzzled," claiming that this was not the Scott McClellan it knew. For those familiar with the history of Washington politics and this administration in particular, little that Scott McClellan is saying is new or surprising. When one knows nothing, everything is surprising, puzzling, a mystery.
To promote the qualities of mind suitable for a free people, we should learn – and keep learning – both classically and technologically. Not that long ago, I thought about iPods in a very parochial way. I thought they were for popular music and not really useful for me – modern entertainment only. But iPods are for podcasts and lectures, movies, educational videos, documentaries, and for sharing, discussing and creating new knowledge, new perspectives. Most things that innovators create, within the capitalistic systems that reward and enable them, are not end items at all – but stepping stones to more innovation, new ways of living, thinking, producing.
Think about the Internet – we probably all used it to get here, to prepare ourselves, to pay our bills. Some of us may be using it right now! Its predecessor, the first packet switching data transfer system, was called Arpanet. It was created as a way for the Pentagon to maintain command and control over its missiles and bombers after a nuclear attack had destroyed the central control point. The goal was to maintain functionality through the strength of independent self-organizing decentralization. We no longer worry about fighting a force-on-force nuclear war with a communist superpower, and we rarely mention the Arpanet. But there is an absolute rationality in decentralized, adaptable, and flexible information transfer. Through this magic Macs can talk to PC’s can talk to cell phones can talk to blackberries can talk to convection ovens and automobiles, you name it. Certainly the incredible potential for individual empowerment and networking, for capitalism, was not envisioned by the federal government. Had it fully realized what only the marketplace of human desire and ingenuity could know, it would have resisted the technology as incompatible with centralized control and top-down order that is the hallmark of government and empire. In fact, government has resisted the free-market-driven Internet since the beginning, albeit mostly without success.
In an information-saturated world, we do yearn for simplicity and clarity. Often, this yearning is satisfied by slogans and labels. The challenge before us is to satisfy human desire for clarity and simplicity through a moral, logical and accessible approach to politics, economics, and government. Thanks to Ron Paul’s presidential run, and his wonderful book The Revolution, millions of Americans are now learning about, talking about, and wondering about liberty, the founder’s intentions, and even the workings of the Federal Reserve and fractional banking.
To help more people adopt a quality of mind that is unafraid of learning, unafraid of thinking – we can share the right kind of books and articles, the right kinds of audio and video recordings, the right kind of ideas via personal contact, and our own creative leveraging of all types of communication, and all types of inspiration. Information and education must be exchanged, like certain vitamins, in forms that can be effectively absorbed and utilized by the body politic. I read somewhere recently that in the age of Shakespeare, most people in England were unable to read, illiterate. To broadly share information and ideas, the preferred medium was audible, spoken, and theatrical, and in fact, nothing else worked. For writers to complain that "people don’t read anymore" is not only untrue, it is parochial thinking – something we have to get over. It is about learning – not necessarily reading.
In our age, we have a vast audience of readers, viewers, and listeners, and multiple avenues for sharing new freedom-oriented ways of thinking about life and societal order. Through our attention, time, finances and care, we can support any number of organizations and individuals who promote the creative and critical thought process that future free Americans must cultivate. We can support a more honest understanding of our country’s history, and increased study of the founders and their philosophy. We can support a wider awareness of economics as it really operates through the promotion of the Austrian school, and the work of the Mises Institute and Liberty Fund. We can support, by reading, viewing and sharing, the outstanding contributions to the national conversation offered by the Future of Freedom Foundation, Foundation for Economic Education, the Independent Institute, LewRockwell.com and even the Cato Institute, among so many others. We can support the parents in this country who have liberated their precious children from public schooling. According to the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, these 8 million liberated students equate to the entire student body of 25 different states and Washington, D.C.
This one area of information flow, targeted in support of a living liberty, is full of opportunity. At worst, each of us is individually improved and made wiser, a little more free and a little more bold. At best, a whole country may live free, and win the battle against cowardly bureaucracy, consummate centralization, and the inhumanity of the empire.
A second set of opportunities for a new republic amidst the ongoing collapse is economic – and yet it relates as all things do, to how we think and what we believe. Economics is a battlefield where centralized socialized control of choice and human action – call it communism, socialism or fascism – constantly moves to crush economic liberty and capitalism.
Augustine’s pirate boldly advises the emperor that it is he who is the greater criminal. 1200 years later, Frédéric Bastiat described what he called the "legal plunder" conducted daily by the state. The most well-known Marxist treatise is Das Capital, a recognition that society and government is linked to its economic system. In Ron Paul’s seminal book, The Revolution, two of the seven concise chapters are dedicated to this topic of human and state economy. What are the economic opportunities in the collapsing empire, and how do we discern them?
Pete Schiff’s latest book, Crashproof: How to Profit from the Coming Collapse, is an example of economic advice suited to the collapse of empire. Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggins’ Empire of Debt and Financial Reckoning Day come to mind. There are many others. For those of us who have little money, the question of where to invest has more to do with the resources we all have – our interests, our study, our work and our time. In a collapsing empire, the answer is not difficult.
Do not invest your interest, study, work and time in those activities that depend on a robust empire, a grand centralized state, and the plunder of others. The American way of empire, and the American leviathan, is not only corrupt and deadly, it is ending. At a minimum, we ought to avoid throwing good money after bad. Beyond that, the choices of where to spend our money and time are really wide open. What works? What is republican in concept? What do we like and value in a free society? This is where to put your money and your time. We find it easy to advise others to avoid meat, or fur, or genetically modified food, to recycle or to buy shade-grown coffee. It should be as easy and as common to advise others to avoid funding and supporting the deadly enterprise of empire.
As the empire collapses around us, we need to recognize that capitalism is, and has been for centuries, made to be a villain with few defenders. If one considers the economic policies of the main contenders for king of the empire, we find hard-core socialism offered by Obama.
The Club for Growth said, "Senator McCain’s eager embrace of grossly inaccurate class-warfare demagoguery demonstrated, at best, a painful ignorance of pro-growth economic principles." Bob Barr’s run for President as a libertarian offers some hope – his economic platform is based on reduced federal spending and corporate welfare, and sadly, replacing the income tax with a national sales tax. But only when you look under the issue of individual liberty on Barr’s website do you see veiled reference to unfettered capitalism, and then only if you use your imagination.
American revolutionary Patrick Henry wrote, "Perfect freedom is as necessary to the health and vigor of commerce as it is to the health and vigor of citizenship." In 1956, no so long ago, Ludwig von Mises published a small book entitled The Anti-capitalist Mentality. In it, he tried to understand and explain why the social organization of capitalism – the very engine of progress and prosperity – is misunderstood by average people, discredited by politicians, and hated by the intellectual and chattering classes. He points out that representative government – the foundation of any republic – has a "constitutional corollary." This constitutional corollary is "economic freedom, consummated in the market economy (capitalism)."
Mises explains in a variety of ways how the social and political deck is stacked against the system in which we vote with our capital. In this system, merit and competition determines winners and losers. More importantly, capitalism’s "winners" can never rest on their laurels, never indulge for long in sloth, in pride, in gluttony, greed, lust, envy or even wrath. In a free market, such indulgences open the door to less slothful, less greedy, less prideful, less angry competitors. If capitalism is the constitutional corollary for a republican form of government, it is also a moral corollary for living a good and productive life.
Yet – as Mises points out, "[As a result of economic ignorance] …as [the people] see it, the unprecedented technological improvements of the last two hundred years were not caused or furthered by the economic policies of the age. They were not an achievement of classical liberalism, free trade, laissez faire and capitalism. They will therefore go on under any other system of society’s economic organization."
This misconception underlies the American tendency to undervalue capitalism as a system of social organization. It underlies the ongoing American willingness to sacrifice capitalism as a necessary evil, instead of as the fundamental factor responsible for lifting men and women far beyond expectations of birth and class, while delivering an improved quality of life and livelihood for everyone.
Even among free market conservatives and libertarians, we often fail to aggressively and vocally defend capitalism, in the face of a constant onslaught here at home, in the world’s fifth most economically free country, according to the Heritage Foundation. Ron Paul’s latest book is an excellent vehicle to combat this anti-capitalistic mentality here at home, and a nice companion book, that may help us be more proud and more vehement promoters of capitalism beyond our normal circles, is Mises Institute Fellow Robert Murphy’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism.
When the empire collapses, unless unfettered capitalism prevails, we will not have a republic. In its place, we will have a contracted empire, a grand putrefying socialist corpse. Many in this room, throughout the country, and around the world, worry that America has adopted a form of national socialism, even as we wave the tattered flag of a constitutional republic, and spout endlessly the verbiage of freedom. If we are to be republicans living in a republic, we must preserve and defend unfettered capitalism, and be prepared to fight for it.
There is one other category of opportunity in this collapsing empire, beyond that to educate for self-government, and to preserve and defend the conduct and honor of capitalism. This last category is also the most fun, and perhaps, if we do it well, it will cover sins of omission in the first two.
In the quote I used earlier, regarding the conversation between the pirate and Alexander the great, the particular translation uses the phrase, "noble insolence." Noble insolence was the attitude of the lowly pirate, in his answer to Alexander the Great, a fearsome emperor and warrior. Noble insolence. It isn’t shock-talk radio, and it isn’t Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, or even much of what is offered on Air America or at Reason Magazine.
Noble insolence isn’t a wisecracking or overly poetic preacher, seeking to wake up his congregation, and make them remember his advice. And it isn’t plain old insolence, defined as "contemptuously rude or impertinent behavior or speech." I think a better way of understanding this concept is to look at the archaic definition of insolence, which is "The quality of being unusual or novel." Of course, noble means of superior quality, admirable and distinguished.
We should all take some time to think about, and to practice, this noble insolence. The American empire is a socialistic and increasingly authoritarian leviathan. As Anthony Gregory described it yesterday, the state has become brazen. Yet this empire is the social and political system under which we have grown up and to which we have become accustomed. If we are to live free, we will by default be unusual and novel – even as this novelty and rarity echoes the wisdom of those before us, and reflects the fundamental values of millions of normally silent Americans. In a time when a failing, panicked, and hungry centralized state will react to its ongoing collapse by attempting to persist, survive, and to expand in size and import – our leadership, courage, and idealism – in Alex Cockburn’s words, the "spirit of mutiny" – is more necessary than ever. It is one thing to recognize and understand what is happening; it is another to actually live and work freely, to loudly challenge statist stupidity wherever it is found, and to practice noble insolence.
It is easy to learn and think about self-governance, and to find fault with the empire at hand, and to wish for an improved or renewed constitutional republic. For us, as lovers of capitalism, it is easy to see how the unfettered free market is consistent with improved quality of the lives and the overall moral and meritorious conduct of all people. But to challenge orthodoxy when it seems as if we are outnumbered, or in the face of seeming great power, in a country that is militaristic in both attitude and economy, this is a real challenge. We face barriers to the truth we may wish to promote, whether is it in the form of aggressive smears or institutional silence from an establishment invested in empire. We face practical and physical assault on our freedom if we challenge the empire here at home, whether on the so-called public highways and airways, our over-regulated private enterprises, our property and our capital. Noble insolence in the face of all these things is truly necessary, and it is a great and difficult duty of republican citizenship.
I’d like to share a quote from Leo Tolstoy, who discovered what we are discovering about morality and freedom, statism and tyrants. He did not live to see the communization of Russia, the public acceptance of many forms of fascism, or totalitarianism’s persistence. He did not live to see the peaceful rejection of unjust government inspired by Gandhi in India, and some other places. He is not here to see Americans claim their peaceful, free, non-interventionist birthright – something we are chartered to do, or to die trying. Tolstoy wrote:
That this social order with its pauperism, famines, prisons, gallows, armies, and wars is necessary to society; that still greater disaster would ensue if this organization were destroyed; all this is said only by those who profit by this organization, while those who suffer from it – and they are ten times as numerous – think and say quite the contrary.
De La Boétie wrote on this great fact as well, when he advised,
Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.
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