Yesterday’s essay brought only one comment and a single ping. Perhaps our Gentle Readers were nonplussed by it. I could hardly blame them; it was a “passion piece,” the sort that writes itself with the fervor the subject aroused in me. If it left readers wondering when the men in the white coats toting butterfly nets would come to call at the Fortress, I’d understand.
But the subject is…well…real. It won’t go away. Ultimately it’s self-defending – no one gets away with flouting the laws of the universe for very long – but the interim can be somewhat trying. The longer the sane people of the world delay about coming to its aid, the worse the destruction and terror the corrections will cause.
The thing is, the flouters have an ally. And it might not be who you think.
The central, inescapable tragedy of the past century – the one that has colored every aspect of American life to some degree – is power politics: men struggling over the privilege of using force against their fellow men. Here’s L. Neil Smith’s depiction of a genuinely free society that gets a glimpse at the history of our own:
They learned a great deal, none of it encouraging: the Revolution; the Whiskey Rebellion; a War of 1812?; Mexico; and, horror of horrors, a civil war-three-quarters of a million dead. Financial crises alternated with war, and no one seemed to notice the pattern. World War I; the Great Depression; World War II and the atomic bomb; Korea; Vietnam. And towering above it all, power politics: a state growing larger, more demanding every year, swallowing lives, fortunes, destroying sacred honor, screaming in its bloatedness for more, capable of any deed—no matter how corrupt and repulsive, swollen, crazed—staggering toward extinction.
Smith wrote that more than forty years ago. If it were penned today, it would include much, much more.
Before you go off thinking, “the crazy bastard is off on another ‘freedom-uber-alles’ rant,” remember that this is Part 2 of a tirade about reality itself.
The State and its horrors exist for a reason – and it’s not the threadbare “necessary evil” justification some of you expect. It exists because of human free will.
Free will is essential to what theorists call moral agency: that condition in which a sentient creature can rightly be held responsible for what he does. It’s easily captured with a few simple questions:
- Was he aware and in control of himself?
- Were his actions free and uncoerced?
- Was he aware of what the consequences would be?
If all three answers are yes, the person under discussion is a moral agent, and therefore can be held responsible and fully liable for what he’s done. There are gradations – lack of awareness of the consequences of one’s deed can spare him a charge of murder yet leave him liable for manslaughter – but the mental state itself is the thing of interest here. We assume a priori that anyone we encounter in daily life is a moral agent until he’s proved otherwise. The inverse also holds: we assume that persons who are not moral agents will be either confined or closely supervised, lest they become, in the familiar language, “a danger to themselves or others.”
This implies that – with the exception of anyone who’s escaped his minders – one who does harm to others is doing so in full awareness of its gravity. That is, he knows what he’s doing and can be called to account for it. But today that conviction flies in the face of the observable facts. There are two cases of importance:
- Those who are sufficiently detached from reality to fail the requirement of moral agency;
- Those who are sane enough that we must presume they intend the consequences of their actions.
We don’t normally elevate those in category 1 to public office. (At least, we didn’t until recently.) But those in category 2 make up the overwhelming majority of persons who aspire to power.
The methods of the State are simple: its masters get what they want by employing fear and greed. These two assets are the whole of the State’s arsenal. Quoth Lysander Spooner:
All political power, as it is called, rests practically upon this matter of money. Any number of scoundrels, having money enough to start with, can establish themselves as a “government;” because, with money, they can hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort more money; and also compel general obedience to their will. It is with government, as Cæsar said it was in war, that money and soldiers mutually supported each other; that with money he could hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort money. So these villains, who call themselves governments, well understand that their power rests primarily upon money. With money they can hire soldiers, and with soldiers extort money. And, when their authority is denied, the first use they always make of money, is to hire soldiers to kill or subdue all who refuse them more money.
Interpret soldiers in the above broadly, to include all who are willing to use coercive force against others.
Just now, we can observe many persons running about, using force against innocent others. Go to any event whose headliner is a generally freedom-oriented figure, or to any publicly announced gathering of persons on the pro-freedom Right. You’ll see them at once: the black-clad thugs of AntiFa and Black Bloc. Note that the “authorities” almost never do anything to restrain them. That’s because they’re de facto soldiers in the service of the Regime. They function to induce fear in those who oppose their masters.
Many in the Right think this is exclusively a feature of Left-leaning governments. In this country, that’s largely true. But it was a Right-leaning government – that of George W. Bush – that brought us the PATRIOT Act and the Department of Homeland Security. Both Left and Right administrations have collaborated in the militarizing of state and local police departments. Were it to prove useful to a new “conservative” administration to employ deniable bullies, I have no doubt that it would do so.
The State cannot make or build. It must purchase what it needs. Its purchases include the allegiance of significant groups: groups that will help it, knowingly or otherwise, to maintain and extend its power.
There was a minor scandal – really, it should have been much larger – when it was revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was funding groups that use lawfare to “compel” the EPA to enact ever more restrictive rules. What surprised me about the discovery was how many good-hearted persons were astonished by it. It was fully predictable from the dynamic of politics itself.
That’s a fairly in-your-face example of what I have in mind. Lesser ones are numerous. Every one of them involves a subsidy or a privilege to some group with a shared agenda. The State parcels out favors, often in monetary form, to purchase the good will of such groups. Thereafter, the group’s interest naturally includes maintaining and increasing the value of the subsidy / privilege…and therefore, keeping the favor of the State.
This is a competitive undertaking. The two large factions seeking control of the State compete to enlist groups of many sorts in their ranks. Whichever faction currently holds the levers of power will naturally feed its allies to keep them in the ranks. That often involves money, but surprisingly often is more about privileges: for example, the privilege of de facto immunity from the law.
The methods are always fear and greed. The point is always power.
I spoke of “two large factions” seeking control of the State. There will be two such at any given time, for a reason that stems from the political dynamic: When one group has its hands on the levers of power, other groups will face a strong incentive to coalesce under a single roof, to maximize the effectiveness of opposition. But there is a division far more important than that one: the division between those who want power over others and those who want only to be left alone. Quoth Robert A. Heinlein:
Political tags—such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth—are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
Along with the ton of sarcasm in that passage, there’s a minor omission: Heinlein fails to call out the people who want to do the controlling. They might not want to be controlled themselves — I’d have a hard time believing otherwise – but they’re definitely all in on the control part, as long as they’re the ones who get to do it.
The “two large factions” I speak of here constitute the overwhelming majority of the group Heinlein omitted to mention. And I mean what I’m about to say quite sincerely and exactly as the words appear on your monitor:
They’re the very people whom no sane man would give power…yet they’re the ones who have it, and ultimately, we’re the ones who give it to them.
Nor can we ever, in the very nature of things – there’s that pesky “reality” business again – give it to anyone else. They who seek power will always and everywhere be the ones who get it. And as politics is about the pursuit of power, those who maneuver most forcefully and underhandedly will edge out those who are less ardent.
I have said it more than once. Others have said it too. Quoth Mahatma Gandhi:
The State represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the State is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from the violence to which it owes its very existence.
The swift and certain devolution of the United States, the most hopeful political experiment in human history, is conclusive proof. What more do you need? Fiery letters in the sky?
In the Foreword to Freedom’s Fury, I wrote:
I shan’t attempt to deceive or misdirect you: I’m horrified by politics and all its fruits. I consider the use of coercive force against innocent men the greatest of all the evils we know. But I try, most sincerely, to be realistic about the world around us. In that world, peopled by men such as ourselves, anarchism—the complete abjuration and avoidance of the State—is unstable. In time, it will always give way to politics. Hammer it to the earth as many times as you may, you will never succeed in killing it permanently. The State will rise again.
However, as we’ve learned to our sorrow these past few centuries, the State is unstable, too. It always deteriorates and falls, though not always swiftly. What follows it varies from place to place and era to era.
But what is right – what is just according to “the moral order of the universe” (Clarence Carson) – is not unstable. It remains the same throughout the centuries. It’s possible for anyone to know it and to abide by it. When humans proved painfully slow to get the message, the Creator of the universe sent His Son to tell us unambiguously:
Now a man came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?”
He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he asked.
Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself.”
[Matthew 19: 16-19]
I shan’t attempt to improve on that.
A fairly long exposition, eh? Well, reality is a big subject. The point may be one of those “we can’t see the forest for the trees” deals, but it remains nevertheless. And it can be summarized in seven little words:
We need Christ.
And that won’t go away either. Have a nice day.