Mon, 22 Feb 2010 02:36:43 -0500
Lew Rockwell on von Mises, Ron Paul, Free-Markets and the Future of Freedom
Interviewer After Thoughts
In an era of Lilliputians, there are few truly important men. Lew Rockwell is one of them, in our opinion. He started the Mises Institute at a time when Misesian thought was being actively repressed in America and throughout the world. Today, at some points, there are more mentions on the Internet of von Mises than the muddled socialist economist John Maynard Keynes. This phenomenon is directly attributable to Rockwell who can fairly be said to have midwifed the formal free-market economic movement of the 21st century -- through energetic American entrepreneurship and a devotion to the truth.
Rockwell is regularly attacked by those who are enemies of freedom. And of course he invites those attacks with his uncompromising stances and the unapologetic intellectual rigor with which he approaches the science of free markets. But what is most interesting from our point of view about Rockwell is that he started a revolution in thought that has literally turned the established canon of 20th literature on its head. Today's intellectually aware youth are bound to discover free-market thought (mostly via the ‘Net) whereas in the 20th century no matter where they looked they would have found only socialist paradigms.
We recall conservative-writer Jonah Goldberg's famous quip back in the early 2000s that Rockwell and his libertarian colleagues could fit into a "phone booth." Well, today, fortunately, it is a mighty big phone booth. Ron Paul is the most influential libertarian congressman since Thomas Jefferson (in our opinion anyway) and Misesian thought, thanks in large part to Rockwell, has truly swept the world. In the meantime, the National Review, for which Goldberg is editor-at-large, is virtually a non-entity in the larger scheme of things.
In fact, Conservatism itself, from our point of view, is largely a spent force. It is really at this point the religion of the state, the last bastion of military formalism. There is no doubt that Bill Buckley did a great deal in his lifetime to retard libertarianism and to stifle the conversation of freedom that Rockwell et al. have so notably promoted.
It is getting harder these days to be a progressive, let alone a socialist, because there are simply no arguments to make, historically or economically, in support of either ideology. American "conservatism" (despite its status as a failing ideology in our opinion) is a more formidable opponent because it has the backing of the entire Western governmental apparatus, and the US military industrial complex as well.
The Daily Bell is devoted to the coverage of the power elite's dominant social themes - those fear-based memes that a handful of powerful families and individuals promote in order to confuse people about their own ability to take human action - to take care of themselves in other words. But today, it is most interesting to watch the flailing of the power elite as they seek an ideology of sufficient ideological rigor to combat the growing phenomenon of free-market thinking.
This is the secret conversation that rages - unspoken and unpublicized - throughout the world today. There are too few of the elite and too many of everyone else. It is absolutely necessary that the elite purvey an ideology that the ruled can consent to. But today the elite in aggregate seems perplexed and even increasingly desperate. Every new free-market thinker degrades the ability of the elite to frighten and intimidate the masses into believing that society will descend into anarchy if a Tony Blair or Bill Clinton is not available to steady the ship of state.
Seen from this point of view, conservative thought is a kind of last-chance ideology, an intellectual pseudo-discipline that mimics free-market thinking except in the critical area of militarism. The distinct and undeniable difference between classical (Jeffersonian) liberal thought and conservatism - as advanced in the US especially - is that the government must be minimal in all ways except militarily. From a military standpoint, most "conservatives" seem to be willing to accept almost every excrescence of the modern state, from gigantic standing armies, to trillion-dollar budgets, to never-ending war for never-arriving peace and, now, even torture and rendition.
It is a moral and intellectual contradiction to be anti-state and pro-war. War is the "health of the state" - and every war that is waged only further empowers those who are involved with the state and stand behind the state. Indisputably, In the West, the formal journalistic conversation is increasingly a conservative one because this is the final shred of intellectual drapery with which the power elite can clothe itself. That what passes for conservative thought is actually a distorted and perverse remnant of free-market thinking is only one of a number of ironies in today's socio-political discussion.
Nonetheless, the elite persists. Rupert Murdoch has famously created Fox News to purvey "conservative" rhetoric. Thus we have the spectacle, constantly, of Fox's more famous talking heads damning big government while embracing proponents of "big warfare." Program host Glenn Beck is an increasingly obvious representative of this sort of syndrome. He can educate people one day about the follies of progressivism and advocate the next that the US interrogate and then murder a captured Afghanistan Taliban-Pashtun leader. He is apparently oblivious to the contradictions between laissez-faire capitalism and state-sponsored torture and murder, which are antithetical to the sustenance of the former.
In truth, conservatism has little in the way of an intellectual pedigree. We once participated in an article that traced back its roots as an intellectual movement, but found that the first mentions were about 400 years ago. Compare the "conservative" movement then to classical liberalism - the idea of limited government - that one can trace back to the ancient Greeks and beyond.
Conservatism, in fact, means to conserve, and one can make the argument that conservatism is ultimately agnostic about what to retain. One can be a 21st-century conservative and wish to conserve American values circa 1950, which would include militarism and hyper-federalism. Or one can be a post Civil-war veteran wishing to conserve a pre-war America that would include a Jeffersonian, laissez faire approach - one somewhat antithetical to 1950's America. Thus we see conservatism as more of a reminiscence than a coherent political philosophy.
Isn't freedom a very simple affair? Over and over again throughout history we find that the great states mentioned in the history books got their starts as disparate regional entities where the same language was spoken but the same rulers were not in charge. This meant that if one political entity began to become oppressive, citizens could up and leave for an adjacent "nation" and pick up their lives without undue disruption. This wonderfully concentrated the minds of those in charge and helped make sure that the nation-states in aggregate were not overly oppressive. And this in turn, gave rise to the serial golden ages that have humankind's progress in all manner of scientific and artistic disciplines.
The Greek golden age can be seen as partaking of this model, as Athens, Sparta, et al. were nation-states, competing with each other. But prior to this we have the example of Egypt with its upper and lower nations, and China, too, before its aggregation, when the land was divided into different regions that shared some common cultures and to a degree a common language.
We recently did some research on Rome and found, as we suspected, that the seven hills of Rome were ruled disparately and that the commonality occurred when citizens from the seven hills would gather together in various sporting events or religious ceremonies. This gradually laid the framework for what eventually became the Republic of Rome. Italy's Renaissance featured separate city-states. The American exception began with separate states, each with its own culture and political process, but all sharing a common tongue.
It is not a coincidence that the power elite seeks global cohesion - economically and otherwise. Yet as we can see, a more "closely knit" world is not something that is to be desired if you are a friend of freedom. The move toward such a global order is basically an Anglo-American vision, and it is one reason why the United States now has upwards of 1,000 military bases scattered throughout the world. The vision may have been birthed in Britain (and Europe) but America is to be its ruthless enforcer.
This vision however, has come under unexpected attack in the 21st century. It is the Internet itself - a facility invented, ironically by the Pentagon's DARPA (though the marketplace did the heavy lifting) - that has provided the platform for Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute to help launch an intensive re-education. This has happened before, as we have often pointed out, most notably when the Gutenberg press was invented and eventually undermined the entire social order of Europe and Britain.
What the Gutenberg press did then, the Internet is doing to the power elite's socio-political structure today. There is not in our opinion a single meme that will be left standing by the time the Internet has done its work. Global warming is truly just a "warm up." This is not to say, of course, that the power elite and its mischief making will vanish. But as before, it will be forced to take a step back. The vision of world government will likely disperse, exposed for the ephemera that it is.
Yes ... the Internet's "damage" is already done. Thanks to Lew Rockwell (and others, increasingly), free-market thinking has taken firm hold throughout the world, especially among millions of young people. The movement is so much stronger today even then in Thomas Jefferson's time because of the economic structure provided by Austrian economics which has given us such unimpeachable verities as marginal utility and Say's law. What is very clear is that every regulation and law passed by government is a price fix and price fixes inevitably result in a queue, an industrial inefficiency or a distortion of the marketplace and diminution of competition.
This is the reason the elite hoped desperately that the world would not discover Misesian thought and Austrian economics. This is the reason Mises was ignored and shunned by the establishment during his lifetime. Austrian economics makes an unimpeachable case that government rules and regulation are never positive and always damage the market and retard living standards. There is no other conclusion to reach if one follows the ironclad arguments provided by the invisible hand and marginal utility to their logical conclusion. This is why those who follow Austrian economics inevitably end up as anarcho-capitalists, maintaining (along with those who espouse classical liberalism) that the best state is the one that governs least.
Free-market thinking, as Rockwell understood before almost any of us, is a generous discipline, but powerful and pitiless as well. In time, it will (at least temporarily) degrade the sophistries of "conservatism" and the hypocrisy of those who hide behind state power while pretending to support individual human action. Thus, we will close in honor of Mr. Rockwell with an excerpt of a poem that is entirely appropriate from our point of view as the 21st century opens before us in the vastness of optimism, with all progress that unfettered human action promises.
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!'...
(- From Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley)