What Should We Do?
by Steven YatesYates
Over the time I’ve been writing articles for LewRockwell.com I’ve received dozens of emails from somewhat frustrated readers that said things like, "You’ve diagnosed the trouble, but what do you recommend we do?" To cite the most recent case, in response to my Screwtape Letters-styled piece a couple of weeks back, P.D. writes, "there is one thing [your] articles beg, and that is an answer to the question, in light of all of this, what is one to do? You’ve written a lot of words on the problem, I’d be curious what solutions you pose…. My question is simple, what is the best way to return to freedom and the constitution and limited (rather than unlimited) government…?"
The question is humbling. I’ve wrestled with it the whole time I’ve been writing about liberty. It long predates my involvement with LewRockwell.com. As a member of the Midlands Libertarian Party based here in Columbia in the early to middle 1990s, we often debated what we should be doing. When all was said and done I had to agree with a sardonic remark by Ziggy, the comic strip character created by Tom Wilson, that "when all is said and done, there is a lot more said than there is done." One of our members angrily left the group telling us, "When you are ready to do something, call me!" To his credit, this fellow had been a fixture at the South Carolina State House and had a reputation for badgering politicians with questions they did not want to answer. He passed away later in the decade, and while the politicians probably don’t miss him, he is definitely missed by South Carolina’s libertarians.
But however colorful this background might be, it doesn’t answer the question the reader posed.
It’s a dilemma. On the one hand, I’ve long advocated different groups pool their resources and work together: libertarians, Christian groups, pro-South groups, etc. While there are obvious differences of opinion among these (for example, many libertarians including people I consider allies on almost every other point are fixated on the idea that to be a "real" libertarian you have to be an atheist, as was Ayn Rand), there is also common ground. Taking up that common ground and defining its premises, one finds commitments to individual natural rights, limits on the powers of government, personal responsibility, the need to deal with other individuals and peoples peacefully, and so on. These are all powerful rallying points against collectivism, statism, welfare dependency, political correctness, unlimited government and the ideology of total-war.
But on the other hand, a successful umbrella movement taking up the case for liberty against statism could fall into a hidden trap. The larger movements grow, the greater the temptation to adopt hierarchical and bureaucratic models of organization. Then the leadership becomes less responsive to those at the grass roots level who then lose interest and go their separate ways. First thing you know, you are right back where you started. I have come to doubt that a large-scale big-tent libertarian movement would work. Libertarianism just isn’t that kind of a political philosophy. If libertarians tried to force it to work, they would find they had become de facto statists!
So what can we do? The answer lies with enumerating actions individuals can take. First, as I often tell readers, we didn’t get into our present predicament overnight, and we are not going to get out of it overnight. The strategies most likely to work involve various forms of personal economic, cultural and educational secession easing one’s way out from under the currently dominant political structures and their influence on one’s thought and life. Some of these strategies will be relatively easy for some to pursue; others will be much, much harder, depending on one’s background and personal inclinations. It is fortunate that we do not need to be doing all the same things. There is a natural division of labor within the freedom movement. I write articles (I am also revising a book manuscript and working on a novel). Not everyone is a writer. Writing is a solitary business, and that alone would drive some people up the wall. Maybe these other people are better organizers of people than I am (I sometimes sardonically tell people that I cannot organize my desk). Still others are natural-born entrepreneurs who have a knack for seeing unfilled needs. Most of us have some combination of these, with one trait or the other dominant.
Likewise, there are organizations one can join, or support with donations. The Ludwig von Mises Institute is the obvious example; there is also the Center for Libertarian Studies, and there are numerous state and local libertarian organizations. Research institutes do a lot of educational and outreach work, including regular seminars and conferences such as the upcoming Mises University at the Mises Institute next month. Other libertarian organizations are hosting other conferences, such as Freedom Summit 2003, coming this October in Phoenix, Ariz. So there is actually a lot of activity occurring. We should be grateful that today we have the Internet and the World Wide Web. Obviously, the people who originally founded our republic did not. The people who kept libertarian ideas alive, decade after decade, as the state expanded its power did not. Electronic media comprise a formidable weapon. They are inherently decentralized, and decentralizing. More and more people are logging on and reading online commentary sites such as LewRockwell.com. "Mainstream" print media, rocked with scandals such as the Jayson Blair fiasco and countless others, are very slowly losing credibility. So are the "mainstream" universities, with their promotion of obvious political agendas ahead of real scholarship and pedagogy.
Yet we are not out of the woods by a long shot, not with the Patriot Act still on the books and even worse legislation circulating in Congress (e.g., Patriot II, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003). But as just revealed by Ron Paul’s office, the Patriot Act is facing opposition from the inside. That means there is hope. For us out here in the real world beyond the confines of Rome on the Potomac, what counts is individual action, and what actions one can take are best determined by the individual himself or herself – in accordance with that fundamental principle of liberty known as personal responsibility. What actions individuals will take depends on their personal resources, interests, values, inclinations, and level of motivation. (Sometimes this last factor is the most important!)
One thing people who want to preserve liberty should do is plan out a course as early in their lives as possible that will lead to personal financial independence – including independence from the need to work directly for someone else. As long as you need to seek direct employment from others, you are vulnerable to a variety of abuses in a corrupted system (e.g., affirmative action if you are a white male). As long as you are employed working directly under a boss, you are vulnerable to being fired for having the wrong ideas, with little or no recourse. Depending on your age bracket, there are a variety of options you can pursue. In college, major in subjects such as business and finance with an emphasis on entrepreneurship; it may be necessary to pursue extracurricular workshops or adult-education programs in case entrepreneurship is not emphasized in one’s business school (as opposed to fitting into a corporate hierarchy). Gary North has some additional suggestions. There are careers one can pursue that do not even require a college degree. Real estate is an example – although if the housing bubble bursts, the option might come to look less attractive. Selling insurance is another example. Becoming a copywriter – for those skilled at writing and research – is yet another. There are many more.
If your business makes money, use some of that money to support organizations such as the Mises Institute or the Center for Libertarian Studies; there is also We The People, Bob Schulz’s organization trying to bring the IRS under control. There are new organizations such as Freedom-Force International, about which I will say more below. It is worth observing that none of these is supported by Ford Foundation or Rockefeller Foundation or Carnegie Corporation grants, to name just three of the huge tax-exempt foundations that have bankrolled any number of collectivist and destructive causes over the years and done so much damage to this country. Freedom organizations survive and prosper mostly through donations by individuals who have chosen to support a cause instead of vacationing at Myrtle Beach.
If you have children, keep them as far as possible from government schools. It has become evident that the dumbing down of America has resulted from a longstanding and very deliberate effort, again with huge financial backing from foundations such as Rockefeller and Carnegie, involving "programs" known not to work. These include "new math," which almost guarantees innumeracy, as well as whole-language approaches that guarantee life-long reading problems. John Taylor Gatto has thoroughly documented the longstanding decline in literacy over the past century. Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt has thoroughly documented the deliberate nature of the strategy, citing the sources that allow us to name names. (It was the Rockefeller Foundation, for example, that bankrolled John Dewey’s Progressive Education movement; the Carnegie financial empire has been behind OBE and its offshoots.) The solution is that education should be done either within one’s own family unit (home schooling) or by those whose entrepreneurial specialty is education. The latter, among freedom people, will be found setting up and running private neighborhood schools or church-affiliated schools.
Another suggestion I often make is for readers to acquire as much knowledge as they can of our country’s founding principles and its history – beginning with knowing what is in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution – and, perhaps, the Articles of Confederation as well, as background. Also read the Federalist Papers alongside the writings of the so-called Antifederalists. There are a number of good books about the very early history of this country such as those by Forrest McDonald, and treatments of the broad sweep of U.S. history such as the six-volume set of books by Clarence B. Carson, A Basic History of the United States. And then, of course, there are more specific treatments such as Tom DiLorenzo’s blockbuster The Real Lincoln. Study the history of this country to learn the reasons for our founding principles’ betrayal. It is important to see that this country has undergone specific turning points in its departure from its founding principles. The first major turning point occurred under Lincoln’s watch, when we ceased to be a voluntary union of states and became a nation state held together by threat of direct military coercion. Lincoln’s regime did not simply destroy the Confederacy; it destroyed federalism as originally conceived. (There are a lot of libertarians who unfortunately do not grasp this; they are still locked into the idea that the War Against Southern Independence was fought exclusively, or almost exclusively, over slavery, and that its most important consequence was the end of slavery.)
The next period to look at closely began in 1913 and ended with Woodrow Wilson’s entry into what had been a regional European conflict. That disastrous year saw the creation of both the Federal Reserve central banking system and the Internal Revenue Service. The former eventually destroyed the value of our currency; the latter, by making it possible to tax individuals’ personal incomes, gave expansionist government an increasingly unlimited means of expropriating from taxpayers whatever it needed to further its programs. For a good guide to the origins of the Federal Reserve I recommend G. Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island; for some economic arguments about why the perceived need for central banking is an illusion I recommend Murray Rothbard’s The Case Against the Fed. Speaking of Griffin, however, he has recently put together an organization with an impressive beginning. I mentioned it above: Freedom-Force International. Griffin has organized, in a number of essays listed in the issues portion of the organization’s website, a very impressive statement on the still mostly hidden power structure that has been quietly constructing the New World Order. This includes information on how the U.S. was maneuvered into what become World War I, how the attack on Pearl Harbor was instigated with the evil Roosevelt’s full foreknowledge, all leading up to some very disquieting revelations about 9-11. Yes, Virginia, it is extremely likely that powerful people knew in advance that 9-11 itself, or something very like it, was coming, and did nothing because they knew it was something they could use to increase their power. A few people wrote to me in response to my last piece to question whether the global elites were really serving the devil, Ol’ Scratch himself. But surely it is clear we are confronting something evil here.
Griffin’s recent work unites a number of fundamentally libertarian ideas (he does not use that specific term) with what some would label a "conspiratorial" view of history: the only view of the past century that can explain how every pivotal event has expanded the state and led to greater and greater concentrations of wealth and power. I recall a time, long ago, when I was quite skeptical of "conspiracy theories." Then a friend showed me Carroll Quigley’s books Tragedy and Hope and The Anglo-American Establishment. Quigley, as I’ve shown elsewhere, was an insider. His work cannot be dismissed as the product of paranoia. We must eventually shelve the view that twentieth century history is the product of a sequence of unlucky accidents.
That takes care of history. One should also study economics. Begin with Gene Callahan’s brilliantly written Economics for Real People – or possibly go back and get Henry Hazlitt’sEconomics in One Lesson. Then you’ll be ready for Ludwig von Mises, the most important economist of the last century. Most of Mises’ works can be downloaded from the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s website. The most important: Human Action, Socialism, The Theory of Money and Credit and Theory and History. Also of value to those so inclined are the recently republished The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science and Epistemological Problems of Economics, The Anti-Capitalist Mentality, Bureaucracy, and A Critique of Interventionism. There are other valuable works in the Austrian school – especially those of Hans-Hermann Hoppe – but reading your way through Mises’ most significant works ought to keep you busy for a long, long while.
I would also recommend some crucial works of modern philosophy for those interested in such things. Here some readers will automatically think: Ayn Rand. I happen to disagree with aspects of Rand’s philosophy, especially her conception of human nature, which. I see as inherently sinful and in need of redemption, while she doesn’t. Nevertheless, I’ve long found her work of great value. The Fountainhead is the better of her two huge novels, though I would not neglect Atlas Shrugged. Nonfiction works such as The Virtue of Selfishness and The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution offer good statements of her positions on various issues that do merit study. (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, edited by Rand, contains an essay by, of all people, Alan Greenspan on, of all things, the importance of the gold standard for freedom, written back in 1966! Talk about power corrupting!) There are also a number of significant libertarian philosophers such as Robert Nozick, Tibor R. Machan, Jan Narveson, Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas Den Uyl, David Gordon, and plenty of others who have created a significant literature outside the philosophical "mainstream" which is almost uniformly collectivist and statist. There are a number of other contemporary philosophers whose work is relevant here: Barry Smith, Chris Matthew Sciabarra and Roderick Long, to name just three. For really dedicated readers, I would recommend going back and getting a magnificent work by Brand Blanshard entitled Reason and Analysis. Blanshard utterly demolished positivism and all its offshoots, including most of the linguistic philosophy that came to dominate the English-speaking world. Had Blanshard’s lead been followed instead of, say, Wittgenstein, contemporary academic philosophy might not have turned into an intellectual wasteland by the 1960s. Unfortunately, Blanshard’s work is very hard to find today – this being symptomatic of the state of affairs in academia. (I have heard reports that an earlier work of Blanshard’s, entitled The Nature of Thought, similarly demolished behaviorism in psychology – but, alas, it is long out of print and I’ve not been able to locate an affordable copy.) Finally, I would pull in a solid work on thinking logically. Mises’s favorite was Morris Cohen and Ernest Nagel’s An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method. This book may be a bit dense for most readers; so David Kelley’s The Art of Reasoning will probably do. Then use David Gordon’s An Introduction to Economic Reasoning to make the transition from logic and philosophy back to economics and other areas.
Being something of a scholar myself, I may have penned an article that seems top-heavy with books to read. Point taken. One need not have read and mastered all the nuances of history or economics or philosophy to act on behalf of freedom. Ultimately it is the action that counts. But one must know what one believes and be able to articulate reasons for that belief. One is then in a good position to take actions such as writing letters to the editor, criticizing this or that government plan that involves taxpayer dollars (i.e., dollars extracted by threat of force from those who earned them and given away to those who didn’t). One may even be able to slip a guest op-ed or two into the local newspaper before the official gatekeepers catch on (most editorial page editors aren’t rocket scientists). As these come to the attention of like-minded individuals in one’s community, one finds that one has a lot of sympathizers who are fed up with being stolen blind by politicians and bureaucrats. Then, with the right leadership, organized action to limit government becomes possible.
And then we rely on the division of labor. With a combination of some well-educated families whose children aren’t likely to end up, say, on drugs, some educators, some entrepreneurs, and a number of well-focused research and educational institutes – God willing – we might just be in a position to pick up the pieces when whatever happens, happens. Because one thing is for sure: Rome on the Potomac cannot continue on its present course indefinitely. Focusing on just one of its vulnerabilities: U.S. government debt is massive (now over $6.7 trillion) and growing daily – you can check its growth for yourself here. This debt is one product of unsound money combined with massive and increasing federal spending, these in turn being products of unsound economic theory and social policy. The federal government cannot continue promising everything to everyone, including dysfunctional governments half way around the world that are in no position to pay American taxpayers back. Our government cannot undertake "nation building" endeavors, whether in Iraq or anywhere else, while our own economy struggles and our middle class dwindles under the twin burdens of taxation and pseudo-free trade (the product of NAFTA and other trade agreements that primarily benefit the global elites). From the standpoint of sound economics alone, Rome on the Potomac is in no position to continue on its present course toward global empire, a course that might last another ten years at the most before the roof caves in. No amount of wealth and no degree of concentration of power are sufficient to repeal the laws of economics – any more than they can repeal the laws of physics.
What we should do is keep the range of freedom-oriented ideas and strategies alive in the meantime. The question, in that case, is: are we up to the task?
July 28, 2003