There’s Never A Dull Moment In 2017 Either
In the past I’ve hesitated in writing about current events in the belief that it would only be useful for only a short time, that is, the time in which that event is a hot-button topic. What’s the point in writing about the latest news scandal if it’s going to be forgotten within a week or two? It would be wasted words. For that reason I have been mostly content dealing with more esoteric content, that elucidates general, timeless themes that are not bound to any specific turn of events.
The problem that I see with news and current affairs is that 99% of commentators seems to be insistent on completely missing the point. The content is devoid of context, principle or theory. They look at everything that happens in the public eye from a point-blank range, failing to see the wider themes at work.
I write about theory and principle so that we can see past the irrelevancies and red herrings, and get closer to the truth, and I will still do that.
However, I have been mistaken.
General theory is important, but I’ve now realised that commenting on current events is important too, thanks to Murray Rothbard (who else?).
The book that has done it is Never a Dull Moment: A Libertarian Look at the Sixties, a recent publication from the Mises Institute, edited by Justin Raimondo. I was hesitant in reading it precisely because of my false assumption that focussing on the weekly news item inherently fails to see the woods for the trees.
It’s a collection of some of Rothbard’s short columns commenting on some of the wild goings on of the time, applying libertarian theory to such topics as the Vietnam war, student protests and race relations. I’m glad I did download it (the e-book is free), not just because it’s a blast to read, but so I could see how wrong I was.
My mistake was first in forgetting the age-old adage that “those that don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Hindsight allows us to look back at past events in a more dispassionate, measured way, which in turn allows us to see the wider themes at play.
Secondly, there’s little point in talking about theory and generalities if they cannot then be applied to things that happen in the real world. Theory can too easily fall into obscurity. The average JoAnne is no wiser to the truth of the philosophy of liberty if they cannot see how it can have a say in what is in front of their face.
Actually, one of the best ways of bringing people back from the point-blank view of current affairs is to compare it to past affairs. Things that are not obvious to us in the current moment are blatantly obvious when we’re looking back at history. To bring them together in comparison is to help people see past the extraneous detail to a more timeless truth.
It’s also striking to see how how many issues that were “hot-button” way back in the ancient history of the 60s are still prescient today.
Apparently the problem of flag desecration will be a headline topic for the rest of time; with a few slight differences, whether it’s burning or stomping on the flag. Everyone has their own idea about what their flag means. The United States flag can be seen simply as a symbol of the nation, or whatever values the nation supposedly represents. Those who have special objection to flag desecration want to believe it represents the ideals of liberty. Rothbard differs:
“If, indeed, the flag is a symbol of anything throughout history, it has been the battle standard of the State, the banner it raises when it goes into battle to kill, burn and maim innocent people of some other country”.
Special pleading over a flag is nothing more than vulgar idolatry, in stark opposition to values of individualism and freedom. Moreover, the fact that these people are more horrified by the destruction of a piece of cloth than the destruction of communities of innocent people belies their true values: glorification of state and contempt for liberty.
Speaking of hypocrisy, let us take aim at the Presidential office itself. Every President regularly reminds his peons that violence is to be condemned, always. Yes, the President of a nation state, making a stand against violence. Well, let’s leave aside the patronising nature of this (where would we be without our righteous leaders teaching us The Basics of Ethics?), and look at the bare chutzpah. President Lyndon B. Johnson came up with a real cracker:
“We will not endure violence. It matters not not by whom it is done, or under what slogan or banner. It will not be tolerated”
An astonished Rothbard retorts:
“Let us saver that statement, surely a classic of its kind. It is a statement from a man in charge of the greatest violence-wielding machine, the mightiest collection of destructive power, in the history of the world”.
All the more galling considering Johnson was responsible for the mass slaughter of non-aggressive Vietnamese civilians. Recently, Obama has been wagging his finger at Russia for its own foreign interventions, apparently suffering from amnesia – his reign has been defined by aggressive military action that has killed thousands of innocents. Yet, even without that specific hypocrisy, no President can say these things with a straight face. The only reason the state exists is because it systematically commits and threatens violence to peaceful people.
In the week that women were finally granted equality with men, in the sense that they have the equal right to be enslaved into a military regime, the issue of the draft is back in the public consciousness. The US is not using the draft just yet, but there still remains in the military system an aspect of involuntary servitude. In a series of his op-eds, named Slavery , Rothbard raises the issue that even absence of the draft, military men and women are coerced.
“No man is free if he does not have the right to quit his job. No one denies this right in every occupation – but one: in the armed forces.”
If the US government is to take seriously its commitment against involuntary servitude, it must immediately repeal the compulsion for service members to continually do the military’s bidding until it is done with them. This is one injustice that still remains but is no more discussed in the mainstream media.
Secession is back on the table too. The election of Donald Trump has offended Californians to such a degree that supporting is growing for the state to leave the union. “Haha, good luck” libertarians might say, “your socialism won’t survive without the other states’ revenue!”. Plus, a fair number of libertarians opposed Brexit and Scottish independence based on the fact that a smaller government isn’t necessarily less interventionist. That’s true, but we should support independence and secessionist movements anyway, wherever they may be. Rothbard had an example right in front of him in the Quebec independence movement that was growing at the time:
“…decentralization is itself a good, because the Canadian state will then be weakened and deprived of power over a territorial area; the more states the world is fragmented into, the less power any one state can build up, either over its own hapless subjects or over foreign peoples in making war”.
In addition to that, I say, fragmentation gives the freedom seeker more opportunities. If one’s own nation is interfering too much in their lives, it is better to have more options for potential migration than fewer.
I also liked this line:
“When the Establishment Press really zeroes in on someone and smites him from pillar to post, day after day, then it is a safe bet that he can’t be all bad”.
You can apply this to who you like.
I believe that the case of the Vietnam War should put to an end the posturing by war hawks in favour of continued foreign interventions, even though so far they have produced no tangible good. No other historical event in this book can better teach us about the follies of today.
People like to pretend that troubles in the middle-east and Eastern Africa are unprecedented in history. That these represent unique challenges to liberty and western democracy. These people were proven wrong nearly 50 years ago.
Bring to mind the standard retort to suggestions that the Western forces should simply withdraw from these countries, like Ron Paul went blue in the face saying, “We just marched in there, so we can just march back out”. The war champions respond:
“Okay, mistakes were made in the initial action, but now that we’re here, we need to stay and clear up the mess that’s been made”.
Have these bozos ever heard of the Vietnam War? It’s remarkable how similar the situations are now to how they were then. A strong and aggressive invasion of a foreign nation that posed no existential threat to US citizens, justified by faulty intelligence and fear-mongering over an ideological threat, causing mass destruction of person, property and environment and resulting in a worse situation than existed before; and again, the people that cheered most loudly for the initial intervention called for it all to continue basically indefinitely:
“…the last line of defence for the war’s proponents is: Well, maybe it was a mistake to get into the war, but now that we’re there, we’re committed, so we have to carry on”
Rothbard calls it a “curious argument”.
“Usually, in life, if we find out that a course of action has been a mistake, we abandon that course and try something else. This is supposed to be the time-honoured principle of “trial and error”. Or if a business project or investment turns out to be an unprofitable venture, we abandon it and try investing elsewhere. Only in the Vietnam war do we suddenly find that, having launched a disaster, we are stuck with it forevermore and must continue to pour in blood and treasure until eternity”.
Replace the word “Vietnam” with “Iraq” or “Afghanistan”, and what have we got? An exact description of the justification for continued meddling in the middle-east in 2017, despite its clear disastrous consequences. Like the Keynesians who insist that their policies haven’t worked because they simply haven’t been tried hard enough, the militarists argue that the right and practical response to bad results of a bad policy is to double down on it. Presumably, since they are the establishment opinion-givers and can never be wrong, one day it will finally work, and the millions dead by it will look down from the heavens and admit it was all worth it in the end.
“the way to get out of Vietnam is to get out. Period. Leave. Withdraw. Scram…then everyone would be happy…and maybe then we’d get used to a world, which existed not so long ago, where American would not decide the fate of every people and territory on the face of the globe”.
I’m sorry Murray, it seems that we are no closer to this ideal than we were when you wrote this. Perhaps the answer lies in reminding everyone of these events time and again. Hold it up to their faces and they absolutely cannot deny that that war was a heinous mistake and should never be repeated again. The issues is not that we don’t learn from history, but that we seem to forget that history ever occurred in the first place.
Here’s something only slightly less horrifying: austerity. Libertarians have sometimes found themselves defending austerity on the basis that it has to be better than profligate government spending, especially a couple of years ago when it was in vogue in Britain once again.
We need not. It is not an inherently libertarian policy. It is not aimed towards the welfare of the economy, but of the protection of the nation state. Its implementors recognise the problem all right: massive government spending and over-extended welfare programs. The proper response to this is to not only cut spending and welfare but to relieve the tax, regulatory and inflationary burden on business and individuals so that the economy can become more productive. Austerity has the spending cuts but without the accompanying tax cuts, regulation repeal and deflation. This is tantamount to putting shackles on the productive class. They deliberately make it more difficult for the economy to grow and expect awesome results.
Their true reasoning behind it is to maintain the status quo of the deep state, that is, the foundational, ultra-level element of the state that survives multiple different administrations, and has the ultimate power.
Preceding governments have spent too much and racked up way too much debt. This is not sustainable. From the point of view of the deep state, the function of Tory and Tory-like governments is to bring the spending and debt back under control, at least for a while, and gain more revenue so that the ruling classes can stay on for a few decades longer. Austerity proponents don’t oppose government spending per se, but only insofar as it threatens the authority of the established class.
The libertarian’s principle is to steadfastly oppose all government spending whenever it occurs, being an expansion of state power and an impoverishing force on the economy. Administrations like David Cameron’s like spending when it suits them. Depending on the circumstance, it’s also a policy pursued by more left-wing governments. In the mid to late 60s, it was Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s turn to impose austerity on the British people, all in the name of “protecting the pound”, yet…
“On Saturday morning, the stunned British public awoke to find that their sacrifices had been in vain and that the pound was now devalued”.
Austerity is the punishment of the majority for the sins of the minority. The majority being the largest class of working people seeking a better life for themselves and their families; the minority being the individuals in the state out for their own enrichment and empowerment. I suppose we can be thankful that there is some internal check on the more bold spenders and central planners within government, but the right response is not to inhibit the people’s productive capacity but to expand it, namely by allowing the market to do its job.
It also has the added effect of empowering the left. First, the state gets the poor into the welfare trap, and then slowly takes away some of their benefits, leaving the disadvantaged without a leg up. The market, all things being equal, would rush to accommodate the demand for a safety net. But things aren’t equal: the state has thirdly, placed more shackles on business through taxation and regulation, reducing their capital, thereby making them less able to either offer the poor jobs or give to charity. Of course the left are going to be emboldened in their intuition that the market does very little for the poor.
The answer is cut spending and cut the economic interventions across the board, and show people what miracles the market can perform.
What to do about the debt, then? Rothbard says repudiate it. Pretty radical, but and as hard as I try, I cannot find a flaw in his argument.
In our current Age of Austerity, a look back at previous ones is warranted to make sure we’re on the right side of this debate.
And finally, I would be remiss not to make some kind of connection to Donald Trump, the United States’ new President. I saved the following quote as a reminder to libertarians that are afflicted by this notion that Trump is some kind of secret liberty lover, either because he hates leftists as much as we do, or because he said something nice about Ron Paul once. For not so long ago, another quite obvious statist got elected to the Presidency, and he too was once considered libertarian-ish:
“[libertarians] began popping up in the Nixon camp, some high among his staff of advisors. Their story was always the same: “Privately, Dick really agrees with us; he told me this many times …” et cetera. What malarkey! Why didn’t these fools realise that being all things to all men, that agreeing with whomever is last in your office, is the politician’s stock-in-trade?”
Trump in particular is skilled in the art of schmoozing; he’s an adept deal-maker, he could get anybody to believe he was really on their side. There is but one way to approach this: look at his actual policies.
“Put not your trust in princes: consider only their public performances, and not their private promises. One would think that libertarians, at least, would be sensitive to this truth”.
One would think that a libertarian arguing that we should back Trump would at least have the awareness that such a move is idiosyncratic or counterintuitive*, considering his record and rhetoric, and not portray it as the obvious way forward, and that any sane libertarian would jump on the Trump train without hesitation. Regretfully, it appears that these ostensibly sharp people have been bamboozled, schmoozed, flattered and deceived by this man. Let’s hope that they snap out of it sooner rather than later.
It is is all the more clear by taking a wide view of current events, past events and how they fit in the puzzle of history. This is why it is important to comment on what is happening in the here and now, and make a connection with what you believe. Somebody has to be in the conversation, making the proper case. It’s no good to just harp on about theory if you have nothing to say about what is happening in front of everybody’s eyes. Make the argument for liberty by using current events as case studies.
Even though I harboured this distrust of current political commentary, I have indeed posted articles doing exactly that. The fact that I did so makes me think I knew the value of them subconsciously. At least from now on I shall do so without this weird cognitive dissonance. Whether the commentary be in the form of articles or social media postings, I hope you do too.
*The only exception that comes to mind is Walter Block, whose defence of Trump is the only one that makes any sense from a libertarian view. He wagers that Trump would have been sightly better than Hillary on foreign policy. If we are to believe what he says, that follows, but the problem is that I do not believe him .
This article was powered by coffee. If you liked the article, please consider buying me one via the donate button. If not, have a nice day!
For personal and political freedom